The 49ers didn't make too many splash moves during the offseason, but they do have a number of starting spots that will be different.
For the most part, the San Francisco 49ers looked at the 2023 offseason knowing they didn't have too many holes to fill. And, with what's been a moderately successful strategy the last few years, they hope prior years' NFL Draft classes can pave the way for future starters, even if those players don't contribute much in year one.
Case in point, 2021 draftees like left guard Aaron Banks and safety Talanoa Hufanga didn't see too much field time their rookie seasons, yet both played significant roles in year two.
At any rate, the Niners did experience some turnover this offseason heading into 2023. And while the focus for head coach Kyle Shanahan's squad is understandably what happens at quarterback, namely in the wake of Jimmy Garoppolo's departure to the Las Vegas Raiders and the "who will start?" dilemma between Trey Lance and Brock Purdy, there are a few other spicy roster battles that'll be of interest, too.
In some cases, namely with free-agent departures, San Francisco is guaranteed to have a new starter. In others, a dark-horse candidate might emerge and push out someone presumed to start.
Let's look at where the starting lineup could be different than what it was a year ago entering 2022 (aside from quarterback, of course).
49ers lineup change: Boundary cornerback
Charvarius Ward has the No. 1 boundary cornerback spot locked down. No questioning that. He and now-Detroit Lions corner Emmanuel Moseley started last year on the outside. But, when Moseley suffered a torn ACL in Week 5 last season, Deommodore Lenoir stepped in and played admirably enough to be considered for the starting job in 2023.
The 49ers could keep Lenoir in that role, but there's a strong chance that someone like fifth-round rookie Darrell Luter Jr. pushes the former for that spot
49ers lineup change: Nickel cornerback
In a way, both the boundary and nickel cornerback spots are intertwined. Lenoir could move inside to slot coverage, which he did briefly last season after last year's opening-day starter, then-rookie Samuel Womack, fell out of favor early into the regular season.
Or, just as possible, Womack could bounce back and allow Lenoir to stay on the outside. It's also highly reasonable to expect one of the Niners' free-agent pickups, former Atlanta Falcons cornerback Isaiah Oliver, getting the nod in this spot, too.
49ers lineup change: Right tackle
This is probably the most obvious spot, as San Francisco said goodbye to Mike McGlinchey after five years of service, and he subsequently signed a big contract with the Denver Broncos during the offseason.
On the surface, it appears as if Colton McKivitz is the favorite to start, a continuance of the recent trend of mid- and late-round draftees assuming starting jobs a year or more down the line from being drafted.
That said, other offseason pickups like Matt Pryor or Jon Feliciano could relegate McKivitz back to reserve duties.
49ers lineup change: Strong-side linebacker
The 49ers lost Azeez Al-Shaair in free agency this offseason but already have a few reserve options for the strong-side (SAM) linebacker spot in veterans like Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles and Oren Burks. Additionally, a rookie like Dee Winters or perhaps even Jalen Graham could emerge as a candidate capable of assuming this role.
Since the Niners don't spend much time in base formations and are predominantly in nickel, the SAM role isn't quite viewed as a starting job in the way it used to be.
49ers lineup change: Defensive tackle
San Francisco had a rotation of different bodies at defensive tackle last season, namely because of lengthy injuries to Arik Armstead and Javon Kinlaw.
Both figure to return fully healthy in 2023, but Kinlaw is potentially looking at being relegated to backup duty in the wake of the 49ers' biggest free-agent pickup of the offseason, Javon Hargrave.
Hargrave and Armstead are likely to comprise the interior of the Niners defensive line this season.
49ers lineup change: Defensive end
Like boundary cornerback, San Francisco has zero questions about its top defensive end, All-Pro Nick Bosa. But the opposite end is very much up in the air, particularly after Charles Omenihu and Samson Ebukam left for the Kansas City Chiefs and Indianapolis Colts, respectively.
The 49ers added only one edge player via the NFL Draft, Robert Beal Jr. in Round 5, and he figures to be more of a rotational rusher early in his career at that point.
And that's what the Niners' top pick from the 2022 draft was supposed to be, too, Drake Jackson.
Jackson fell out of favor late last year because of a general lack of conditioning, but he might be the favorite to start over Beal and two of San Francisco's other low-risk free-agent pickups, Austin Bryant and Clelin Ferrell.
The 49ers do have some insurance against Jackson potentially falling, though.