Way-too-early 49ers 53-man roster projection for 2024

The first wave of free agency is over and the draft is still a month away, but that doesn't mean we can't take a stab at who will eventually make the 49ers' initial 53-man roster in September.

Super Bowl LVIII - San Francisco 49ers v Kansas City Chiefs
Super Bowl LVIII - San Francisco 49ers v Kansas City Chiefs / Michael Zagaris/GettyImages
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Nick Bosa
Super Bowl LVIII - San Francisco 49ers v Kansas City Chiefs / Ryan Kang/GettyImages

49ers defense

Defensive line (10)

EDGE Nick Bosa

DT Maliek Collins

DT Javon Hargrave

EDGE Leonard Floyd

DT Jordan Elliott

DT Kevin Givens

DE/DT Yetur Gross-Matos

EDGE Robert Beal

EDGE Drake Jackson

DT Kalia Davis

You can lock in the top seven guys here, from Nick Bosa down to Yetur Gross-Matos, since they are all either elite, big-money players or newly minted free agents who are guaranteed to make the roster.

The final two slots are up in the air because the draft hasn't happened, and there's no way to know if a rookie can supplant either second-year pass-rusher Robert Beal Jr. or Drake Jackson, who is heading into his third season and coming off a season-ending injury last year.

Jackson has yet to show enough to justify his draft pedigree, and with no guaranteed money left on his rookie deal and roughly $700,000 in dead money split over two seasons if he's cut, he'll need to show he can be a valuable part of the rotation to stick around.

Beal only played in 39 snaps over four games as a rookie, so he likely sticks around if the two are neck-and-neck during training camp.

Until we know who the competition is, however, they both get to stay, but I doubt that remains the case as the offseason plays out along this nearly fully restocked position group.

As for Kalia Davis, he's also a "for now" guy depending on what happens in the draft. He could also be supplanted by Earnest Brown or for someone with more versatility.

Linebackers (5)

MLB Fred Warner

MLB Dre Greenlaw*

LB De'Vondre Campbell

LB Dee Winters

LB Jalen Graham

(Note: if Greenlaw begins the season on IR or PUP, look for Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles to take that spot)

The first name is easy, with Fred Warner locked in for the foreseeable future, especially given his recent contract restructure a few weeks ago.

The second is also easy, but it comes with a caveat. If Dre Greenlaw recovers from his Achilles tear suffered during the Super Bowl and is fully ready to go then he's the guy next to Warner. If he has to start the season on IR or the PUP list, then that provides an opportunity for someone else to step up.

Free agent signing De'Vondre Campbell can serve as both short-term Greenlaw coverage but could also step into that third linebacker slot once Greenlaw is ready to go.

After that, the final two slots are going to go to the rookies from last year, Winters and Graham, as opposed to a veteran like Flannigan-Fowles. The 49ers will want to look to the future here, especially given Greenlaw's injury and contract situation (he's a UFA after the season).

If Greenlaw isn't ready, then DFF could slide into that spot for the short term, serving as a special teamer and depth linebacker.

Cornerbacks (6)

CB Charvarious Ward

CB Deommodore Lenoir

CB Isaac Yiadom

CB Darrell Luter

CB Chase Lucas

CB Samuel Womack

The starters, at least on the outside, are set, with Charvarius Ward and Deommodore Lenoir both establishing themselves as excellent options at the position last year. The caveat there is the chance that someone else comes in and takes over on the outside opposite Ward, allowing Lenoir to slide into the slot, a position that proved a major hole for the 49ers last year.

An option there might be incoming free agent Isaac Yiadom, who began to cement himself as a strong defender in 2023 with the Saints after several up-and-down seasons in Denver, New York, Green Bay, and Houston prior to that.

But injuries allowed Yiadom to finally get a consistent run as a starter last season and he responded by intercepting one pass while racking up 14 pass defenses and holding opposing quarterbacks to a 48.9% completion percentage when targeted.

All that means that the journeyman will probably get the first crack at joining the starting lineup, although the 49ers opting to select a cornerback at No. 31 overall in this draft could alter that plan.

After those three, it's three guys with something to prove, particularly Samuel Womack who has been inconsistent as a defender since joining the 49ers two seasons ago. Darrell Luter, who had an unfortunate moment in the Super Bowl, is someone the team is high on and should be given a chance to start in the slot as well.

As for newly signed Chase Lucas, his spot here is mostly driven by special teams, as he played 72% of those snaps with the Lions last year.

Safeties (4)

SS Talanoa Hufanga*

FS Ji'Ayir Brown

S George Odum

S Tayler Hawkins

The roster is pretty thin here at the moment, with only Ji'Ayir Brown, George Odum, Tayler Hawkins, and Erik Harris listed at the position at this point in the offseason, since Talanoa Hufanga is still coming off his ACL tear from last season.

If the former All-Pro is healthy and ready to start the season, then he'll be the guy next to Brown, who flashed a ton of potential last season when he had to step in after Hufanga's injury. If not, Odum, who signed an extension with the 49ers a few weeks ago, can be the guy for a while, but he's essentially here for his prowess on special teams.

Hawkins is here by default, although he did play well in the 49ers' meaningless Week 18 game against the Rams, grabbing an interception and racking up four tackles before being added to the practice squad IR just three days later.

He could be in the mix for the fourth slot, but there's likely going to be a rookie or two fighting for the position as well, so training camp and the preseason will play a big role in deciding that position in the end.

Defensive totals: 25