49ers roster: Predicting 16-man practice squad in 2021

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Nate Sudfeld (7) Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Nate Sudfeld (7) Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports /

The 49ers will be allowed to keep 16 players on their practice squad again this season, so let’s take a stab at who makes the cut.

There weren’t too many positives stemming from the COVID-19 altered 2020 NFL season, namely fans being prevented from attending any San Francisco 49ers games, altered schedules, regular testing, players being put on reserve lists, and perhaps most especially, the Niners being uprooted from home games toward the end of the year.

But if there was a positive development, the NFL altered rules for the practice squad, upping the number from 12 in previous years to 16, and that also included allowing for six players to be added who otherwise wouldn’t have been eligible after two accrued seasons.

Those same rules, which are described further in depth here, are carrying over into 2021.

In San Francisco’s case, there are likely to be plenty of players the team would like to retain in some capacity, including some veterans, to help guard against another swarm of injuries like last year. Or at least to stockpile some developmental talent with the hopes of featuring those players down the road.

With one more preseason game to go and final roster cuts to be made on Tuesday, Aug. 31, let’s take a stab and predict who winds up being named to the 49ers’ 2021 practice squad to start the season.

49ers 2021 practice squad predictions

The Niners suddenly find themselves having plenty of depth at various positions, particularly the defensive line and at safety, although there are other spots where emergency call-ups might be necessary.

*Part of the NFL’s International Player Pathway program, which affords an extra practice squad spot

Safety Jared Mayden

Second-year pro Jared Mayden spent the bulk of 2020 on the practice squad, and he even registered an interception during San Francisco’s second preseason game.

As a safety, there’s not enough room on the 53-man roster, but the 49ers like his development.

Cornerback Alexander Myers

A recent offseason pickup, Alexander Myers has just one NFL game under his belt after bouncing around the league a little bit the last two years.

Cornerback depth is a question mark for the Niners, so having an emergency reserve would be smart, and he has yet to accrue one full season as a veteran.

Fullback Josh Hokit

Josh Hokit will be an emergency contingency plan for Pro Bowl fullback Kyle Juszczyk.

Offensive Lineman Alfredo Gutierrez*

San Francisco can keep Alfred Gutierrez on the practice squad without him counting against the 16-man limit, as the NFC West received NFL’s International Player Pathway program inclusion this year.

Offensive Lineman Dakoda Shepley

Dakoda Shepley has had some snapping issues this preseason and seemingly has lost the battle for the backup center job to Jake Brendel, who also might not make the 53-man roster anyway.

Still, having an emergency backup around would be smart.

Defensive Lineman Alex Barrett

Still having just one accrued season at the NFL level, Alex Barrett is probably one of those pieces general manager John Lynch said he wants to protect to guard against attrition along the defensive line.

Defensive Lineman Darrion Daniels

See above.

Linebacker Justin Hilliard

This is a little tougher, particularly with Azeez Al-Shaair dealing with a knee injury. But rookie Justin Hilliard has been a preseason second-half tackling machine at linebacker for the 49ers and could be one of those called up if Al-Shaair or another backer is out for an extended period of time.

Defensive Tackle Kevin Givens

Another tough one, because defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans has called out third-year pro Kevin Givens a lot this offseason. And Givens, who came on strong in 2020, might easily be grabbed up by another team after cuts.

But the Niners would ideally like to try stashing Givens if they can, namely after Zach Kerr emerged as a high-caliber backup to starting nose tackle D.J. Jones, and teams don’t keep three nose tackles on a 53-man roster.

Running Back Elijah Mitchell

San Francisco probably won’t be able to afford stashing second-year pro JaMycal Hasty on the practice squad this time around, at least not after Hasty impressed in Week 2 of the preseason.

The rookie, Elijah Mitchell, hasn’t seen any preseason action just yet because of a hip injury. And while that could change in the 49ers’ exhibition finale, the sixth-round pick out of Louisiana-Lafayette doesn’t have any NFL game tape on him, so perhaps that prompts his stashing for now.

Linebacker Jonas Griffith

In Week 1 of the preseason, Jonas Griffith looked like a quality reserve but took a step back in Week 2.

More of a traditional outside linebacker, the Niners probably elect to go with Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, who offers a bit more upside on special teams and in coverage.

Tight End Jordan Matthews

Finally to the portion where players have more than two accrued seasons, Jordan Matthews makes an intriguing case as a converted wide receiver, turned tight end.

He can’t block much, but his receiving prowess might help guard against an injury to All-Pro George Kittle.

Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

Tavon Wilson and Talanoa Hufanga appear to be the favorites for backup safeties this year. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, a former first-round pick, didn’t play last year. He’ll be happy to stick around in some capacity unless someone else needs him.

Read More: 3 bubble players who deserve to be on 49ers’ 53-man roster

Wide Receiver Nsimba Webster

Depending on who wins the return battle on special teams, Nsimba Webster could find himself on the outside, looking in at the 53-man roster. The back end of San Francisco’s wide receiver room is awfully fluid, though.

Cornerback Davontae Harris

Another recent offseason addition, stockpiling some experienced fill-in options at cornerback will help someone like Davontae Harris stay in the folds.

Offensive Tackle Shon Coleman

He hasn’t played a regular-season snap for the 49ers since he joined them in 2018, but Shon Coleman always seems to have a knack for sticking around in one way or another.

Rookie Jaylon Moore appears to be the favorite for a swing-tackle role. But if that flops, the Niners will want another option close by.

Quarterback Nate Sudfeld

The Niners shouldn’t keep three quarterbacks on their 53-man roster, at least not with rookie Trey Lance now in the folds.

Releasing Nate Sudfeld will cost San Francisco $252,000 in dead money, but it’ll free up a valuable roster spot that can address depth questions elsewhere, and no other team should be clamoring desperately for Sudfeld’s services anyway.

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