SF 49ers depth chart: Johnathan Cyprien a serious contender for roster spot

Johnathan Cyprien #37 of the Tennessee Titans (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Johnathan Cyprien #37 of the Tennessee Titans (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images) /

When the SF 49ers brought in veteran safety Johnathan Cyprien during training camp, it was an afterthought. But he could seriously make the 53-man roster.

The vast majority of players the SF 49ers have added since training camp kicked off earlier this month won’t make the team’s regular-season 53-man roster. All those wide receivers added to bolster the depth? Nope, probably not. Some of the other camp bodies, namely along the offensive line? Same. They’re almost entirely there for practice reps.

Veteran strong safety Johnathan Cyprien, added last week to bolster depth in the secondary and to replace an underperforming cornerback, DeMarkus Acy, seemed likely to be tabbed into this same category: a camp body.

Yet the 30-year-old former second-round NFL Draft pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars has been turning heads since joining the Niners in training camp. During his second practice, Cyprien intercepted backup quarterback Nick Mullens. Cyprien then added another days later before capping off his third interception of training camp by hauling in a cornerback Tim Harris-deflected pass from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo during red-zone drills.

Yes, three picks for Cyprien.

Players on the back end of an offseason roster need to make practice reports for all the right reasons, and Cyprien is certainly doing this. Additionally, getting some work with the first-team unit has played to his benefit, as San Francisco has regularly been giving starting strong safety Jaquiski Tartt veteran’s time off here and there.

Path for Johnathan Cyprien to make SF 49ers’ 53-man roster

It’s highly unlikely Cyprien unseats Tartt as a starter, assuming the former makes the cut by Week 1.

But having depth at the position is surely on the Niners’ collective mind. After all, due to injuries, Tartt has missed a combined 19 regular-season games the past three years and is poised to hit free agency in 2021.

That fact places focus on the primary backup job, which was held by two-year pro Marcell Harris. Harris held his own over four starts last year with his best efforts coming against the run and even forcing a fumble off the hands of Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson in Week 13. Yet Harris was a notable liability versus the pass, even though it appears he’s made strides in that area during training camp.

Needless to say, Harris and Cyprien are essentially vying for one spot on the 53-man roster. The 2020 increase of practice squads to 16 players, six spots now allocated to veteran players, could mean the placement of someone like Harris here if he loses this camp competition.

As far as Cyprien being demoted to the practice squad, well, there’s this:

Cyprien, too, has his own history of injuries. After a solid four-year stint in Jacksonville, he signed a lucrative four-year, $25 million deal with the Tennessee Titans in 2017 but suffered a hamstring injury that forced him to miss six games. In 2018, Cyprien tore his ACL in training camp and missed the entire year before splitting the 2019 season between the Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons, also ending that year on injured reserve.

But Cyprien does have the advantage of working underneath defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.

The two paired together with the Jaguars between 2014 and 2016.

“He’s been a productive player,” Saleh told NBC Sports Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco. “He knows our system. He’s in great shape. He moves very well. And the expectation for him is to come out and compete. You’re never going to restrict roster spots with numbers, but he’s a talented football player and his ability to come in and compete and push guys, you can never have too many good football players. And he’s a good football player.”

For Cyprien, the opportunity at hand will be to at least showcase his worth, if not enough for San Francisco, potentially to one of the other 31 teams out there looking for safety help.

Next. 49ers Week 1 depth chart predictions, training camp edition. dark

Yet there’s more than an outsider’s chance Cyprien has done enough to unseat Harris on the depth chart, possibly landing as the No. 2 option for the 49ers heading into the regular season behind Tartt.