The 49ers are likely to go with a makeshift roster in preseason Week 2 against the Vikings, yet these five players should see more of the field regardless.
From a record standpoint, no one cares the San Francisco 49ers are 1-0 during the 2022 preseason after defeating the Green Bay Packers at home in both teams’ exhibition opener last Friday.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan gave the bulk of his first-team unit the night off, yet he still allowed quarterback Trey Lance to see two series, which ended with the second-year pro’s 76-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Danny Gray.
Shanahan told reporters before the game he was planning on letting Lance play in Weeks 1 and 3 of the three-week preseason period, and the head coach also emphasized why the upcoming joint practices with the Niners’ next exhibition opponent, the Minnesota Vikings, are more valuable than the actual game to be played out on Saturday, Aug. 20.
Still, that game needs to be played, and Shanahan might be wise to feature these five San Francisco players a bit more during the contest to see what each has to offer.
49ers should give RB Jordan Mason more than 10 snaps
The 49ers have a crowded running back room entering 2022, and undrafted rookie Jordan Mason has an uphill climb to make the 53-man roster even with an impressive training camp.
Mason saw only 10 snaps against Green Bay, all in the second half but still managed to net a solid 30 yards on six carries, albeit going up against Packers defenders who likely have little chance of earning a roster spot themselves.
Shanahan largely deployed third-year tailback JaMycal Hasty in Week 1 of the preseason and to good effect. And while Hasty is on the fringes of the roster, too, seeing what Mason might have to offer as a key depth piece could be more important than trying to squeeze more production out of Hasty.
49ers may need Keaton Sutherland at center after all
For most of camp, the battle for the starting center job was coming down to Jake Brendel and Daniel Brunskill. But with Brunskill suffering a hamstring injury after just one snap last Friday, it appears Brendel will be the favorite heading into the regular season.
Hamstring injuries can be tricky and lingering, which opens up the door for another backup lineman, Keaton Sutherland, to increase his own roster chances.
Perhaps only by necessity if nothing else.
Sutherland, who has just two regular-season starts dating back to when he broke into the league in 2019 as an undrafted free agent, saw 22 snaps in his first game this year. Yet that number should increase against Minnesota to help the Niners determine if he’s worth keeping around as a backup.
49ers must turn to Robert Nkemdiche as a key rotational D-line player
Editor’s update: Robert Nkemdiche has since been released after this list went live.
San Francisco has a recent track record of grabbing castoff defensive linemen and turning them into quality players, Kerry Hyder in 2020 and Arden Key a year ago.
Defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, a former first-round draft choice who only recently joined the team, managed to record an impressive tackle for a loss versus the Packers on a run-stuffing play, and his presence might be needed in the wake of the 49ers losing fellow defensive tackle Maurice Hurst to what’ll likely be a season-ending biceps tear in training camp.
Nkemdiche is on the fringes of the roster, yet he made a positive impact on the 25 defensive snaps he saw in Week 1 of the preseason.
Shanahan should up that number heading into the second week to see if Nkemdiche can carve out a role as part of the Niners’ defensive line rotation this season.
Marcelino McCrary-Ball deserves a bigger look from 49ers
San Francisco doesn’t have too much room for linebackers on its 53-man roster. At least not behind the starting trio of Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw and Azeez Al-Shaair, and especially not with Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles and Oren Burks in the mix as reserves and special teams aces.
However, undrafted rookie Marcelino McCrary-Ball certainly warranted more attention after his interception against the Packers and the subsequent 57-yard return that helped set up the 49ers’ second touchdown score of the night:
The rookie played just 18 defensive snaps during the game yet made the most of his chances.
Considering his coverage ability and the need to stash hybrid-type linebackers who can cover in space, some further evaluation of McCrary-Ball should be necessary against the Vikings, too.
49ers can let QB Brock Purdy play a full half vs. Vikings
Another rookie, albeit a drafted one, quarterback Brock Purdy went from “Mr. Irrelevant” to very much relevant against Green Bay by delivering the game-winning touchdown pass to tight end Tanner Hudson late in the fourth quarter, then the former Iowa State signal-caller successfully converted the two-point try on the play immediately afterward.
With Lance likely to be sidelined, Shanahan will probably start the game against Minnesota with the primary backup, Nate Sudfeld, whose $2 million fully guaranteed contract guarantees a spot on the roster.
Purdy, despite a strong showing against the Packers, is still very much in doubt in terms of his roster chances.
A full half of football, even if it’s against the Vikings’ third- and fourth-string units, would certainly help determine if the rookie quarterback is worth at least stashing on the practice squad this year, potentially even convincing Shanahan to use a precious roster spot once Week 1 of the regular season finally rolls around
Purdy and the Niners square off against the Vikings on Saturday, Aug. 20 at 7 p.m. ET from U.S. Bank Stadium.