49ers roster 2023: Does Keith Ismael have a fighting chance?

If you haven't heard of Keith Ismael before, you're not alone. But he's actually on the 49ers roster.
Washington Commanders offensive lineman Keith Ismael
Washington Commanders offensive lineman Keith Ismael / Scott Taetsch/GettyImages

The 49ers onboarded Keith Ismael to the practice squad a year ago, and perhaps 2023 is the season he breaks through as a key reserve.

Every so often, an obscure player few have heard of manages to break through after impressing enough during training camp, somehow earning a job on a 53-man roster.

Paralleling that occasional lucky story, the San Francisco 49ers have had some luck in identifying and subsequently developing hidden-gem offensive linemen into quality players in recent years. From 2019 through 2022, undrafted free-agent lineman Daniel Brunskill was an important part of the team as both a starter and an immediate reserve. In 2021, center Jake Brendel was a key backup who turned into a full-time starter the following year, playing well above expectations.

Perhaps 2023 reveals that the Niners made a smart investment by bringing aboard offensive lineman Keith Ismael.

Who is 49ers OL Keith Ismael?

Ismael, who'll turn 25 years old later this July, played his college ball at Brunskill's alma mater, San Diego State. In 2020, the Washington Commanders used a fifth-round pick in the NFL Draft to grab Ismael, who appeared in eight games his rookie season but did not start.

He did start five games out of 10 appearances the following year for Washington, however.

In 2022, though, Ismael ended up being released with an injury settlement as part of the Commanders' roster cuts ahead of the regular season, which turned into him signing with San Francisco's practice squad in September of that same year.

How much are the 49ers paying Keith Ismael in 2023?

The 49ers signed Ismael to a reserve/future contract in January of this year, and according to Spotrac, he'll earn up to $940,000 if he winds up hanging onto a spot on the 53-man roster.

However, there is zero in dead money if he's cut, meaning a roster spot is indeed going to be tough to obtain.

What's the ceiling, floor for Keith Ismael with the 49ers?

Traditionally a center, Ismael is certainly in the mix to back up Brendel this season, as that duty likely would have gone to Brunskill a year ago, except Brunskill is now a member of the Tennessee Titans after signing there in free agency.

There's an outside chance that Ismael turns into a starting-caliber player after a few years of refinement, not unlike Brendel who joined the league way back in 2016. But that might be a bit of a stretch.

Read more: 49ers 2023 schedule is live, we predicted every game right here

Especially if the 49ers are merely looking at Ismael as a decent interior backup this season, at best.

As for the floor, Ismael could easily wind up being part of pre-Week 1 roster cuts, failing to make even the practice squad after not impressing during training camp and the preseason.

It'll be interesting to see if Ismael works his way up to play with the second-stringers in training camp. If so, there's a good chance he might hang onto a roster spot as a reserve option.

If he's relegated to third-string duty, though, don't expect him to make the regular-season squad.

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