49ers roster 2024: Austin Bryant likely to be an emergency call-up... again

San Francisco 49ers defensive end Austin Bryant
San Francisco 49ers defensive end Austin Bryant / Michael Zagaris/GettyImages

The 49ers scantly needed Austin Bryant last year, but he might be a go-to option if injury attrition strikes the defensive line.

One of the San Francisco 49ers' biggest strengths is its defensive line, particularly on the edges where All-Pro Nick Bosa headlines the group.

That group saw some notable offseason changes entering 2024. While the Niners bade farewell to support pass-rushers like Clelin Ferrell, Randy Gregory and Chase Young, they also added others in Leonard Floyd and Yetur Gross-Matos while hoping third-year pro Drake Jackson can finally take that next-level leap after being tabbed as the team's top pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Despite the roster moves, there isn't a lot of room for veteran defensive end Austin Bryant to carve out a key role.

Bryant, a fourth-round pick of the Detroit Lions back in the 2019 draft out of Clemson, looks the part of a top-end pass-rusher. At 6-foot-5 and 250-pounds, Bryant appeared to be poised for a solid career at the pro level but dealt with numerous injuries during his Detroit tenure.

In 2023, Bryant joined San Francisco to bolster the offseason pass-rushing depth but failed to make the 53-man roster, instead landing on the practice squad. But the 49ers elevated Bryant to the regular-season group periodically throughout the season, and he saw action in two games and on 36 defensive snaps before finishing the year on the Minnesota Vikings' practice squad following a final release by the Niners last November.

That might be a prediction of how San Francisco sees Bryant, who returned to the team earlier this offseason, heading into 2024.

What will 49ers do with Austin Bryant in 2024?

If the 49ers get the 2021 version of Bryant in 2024, a year in which he tallied 4.5 sacks, there'd be an excellent shot of him earning a rotational role on the 53-man roster without having to worry about the weekly demotion to the practice squad.

That said, it'll be tough for Bryant to surpass the many other pass-rushers who seem to have carved out bigger roles on a fully healthy depth chart.

In addition to the aforementioned names who are clear bets to make the regular-season squad, the Niners boast potential backup candidates in defensive ends Alex Barrett, Robert Beal Jr. and Sam Okuayinonu.

Jackson and Gross-Matos figure to be the Nos. 3 and 4 ends behind Bosa and Floyd, and there's likely room for just one more on the 53-man group.

That implies Bryant will have to beat out Barrett, Beal and Okuayinonu, which is certainly plausible but also difficult.

Beal, who spent all but four games his rookie 2023 season dealing with injury, would appear to be the primary threat to Bryant's chances.

However, based on last year's call-ups and sent-downs, it appears as if San Francisco is content with Bryant being one of those go-to options regularly on the practice squad but available in case an injury strikes one or more of those who are expected to be on the 53-man roster.

That is, of course, if the 49ers don't identify more promising options.

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