49ers vs. Panthers: These Niners need more snaps in Week 5

Jordan Mason #41 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
Jordan Mason #41 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images) /

4:0\. 42. 87. 49ers -6.5. 2-2. CBS. Sunday, Oct. 9. 1-3

The 49ers visit the Panthers in Week 5, and the presumably lopsided contest means these Niners players should see more game action.

San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan typically has a simple strategy of playing whoever winds up giving the team its best chance at winning.

It’s not a bad strategy. The NFL doesn’t reward points for player development or diversifying the number of snaps given to an entire active roster.

However, with what should be a winnable game against the 1-3 Carolina Panthers on the horizon in Week 5, Shanahan might have the opportunity to mix up his depth chart a bit, especially if the odds-favored Niners wind up getting out to a substantial lead early enough in the game.

It’s not surprising a number of players to whom Shanahan should give more snaps versus Carolina are rookies. In fact, three of them are first-year players, and if the context affords it, these four should see a snap increase this Sunday.

No. 4: 49ers cornerback Samuel Womack

Rookie fifth-round NFL Draft pick Samuel Womack was quite the revelation during the preseason, including that two-interception bout against the Green Bay Packers that put him on every San Francisco fan’s radar.

Since then, things have been quiet for Womack, now having seen just 58 defensive snaps (22.75 percent) and also losing his starting nickel job to the second-year pro, Deommodore Lenoir.

Things could get even cloudier for Womack upon the pending returns of veteran defensive backs, Jimmie Ward and Jason Verrett, who are eligible to return off injury lists after being absent the first four games of 2022.

That said, Womack flashed enough promise during training camp and the preseason to warrant some extra looks against what’s proving to be a woefully ill-equipped Panthers offense.

No. 3: 49ers defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway

This might have to happen by default, as the 49ers are going to be without two of their starting defensive tackles, Javon Kinlaw and Arik Armstead, because of injuries. In light of that, and as he did in Week 4’s win over the Los Angeles Rams, veteran defensive lineman Hassan Ridgeway will likely see an uptick in field time.

Ridgeway responded to filling in for Armstead last Monday by notching a sack against Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford, and Ridgeway’s run-stopping tendencies are a notable reason why the Niners defense ranks No. 1 in the league in defending it.

To date, Ridgeway has been on the field for just 30 defensive snaps, just 31.4 percent.

Perhaps San Francisco would be wise to give him a few more in Week 5.

No. 2: 49ers wide receiver Danny Gray

Rookie wide receiver Danny Gray was brought in primarily to serve as a deep-threat weapon for quarterback Trey Lance, and that chemistry was on display during the preseason.

However, with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo resuming starting duties, Gray’s potential as a field-stretching option is limited because of Garoppolo’s weaker arm. And while Garoppolo has actually targeted Gray this season, albeit just twice, Gray’s stat sheet includes just those two targets and no catches.

The 49ers can afford to be patient with their third-round draft investment, yes. Their wide receiver room is talented enough with Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, yet giving Gray an uptick in field time over the mere 13 offensive snaps he has seen thus far wouldn’t be the worst of ideas.

Even if it merely results in one lone Panthers defender being pulled back to cover Gray from time to time.

No. 1: 49ers running back Jordan Mason

The Niners are already hurting at running back, being without Elijah Mitchell and Tyrion Davis-Price because of injuries. And while veteran backup Jeff Wilson Jr. has performed admirably in an emergency-starting role, San Francisco would be wise to divvy up the carries out of the backfield.

And, no, this shouldn’t mean exponentially more for Samuel.

In Week 4, Wilson received 18 of the 49ers’ 22 rush attempts in the game. Yet one player many a fan has been clamoring to see, undrafted rookie Jordan Mason, was surprisingly left out of the offensive game plan.

Mason has only five offensive snaps this season, highlighted by one carry for an impressive 7 yards. That followed a preseason campaign in which he was good enough to push incumbent rushers like Trey Sermon and JaMycal Hasty completely off the roster.

True, Carolina’s defense has actually performed well enough against the run this season, surrendering a respectable 4.1 yards per carry. Yet that helps illustrate the point: Don’t overwork Wilson while Mitchell and Davis-Price are still out, and integrate Mason into the offensive game plan.

The Niners and Panthers kick off on Sunday, Oct. 9 at 4:05 p.m. ET.

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