Predicting San Francisco 49ers' First Wave of Roster Cuts
The time has come for NFL teams all around the league to start the final evaluation process for their final 53-man rosters en route to the 2014 regular season.
The San Francisco 49ers are no exception.
The roster-bubble watch is always an interesting one during training camp. We know the 49ers are a team stacked with talent, and the vast majority of this talent will almost assuredly be on the field come Week 1 of the regular season.
Behind that talent looms a number of fringe players—guys who, in whatever capacity, look to fill a selected few openings that San Francisco looks to carry on its roster.
As we know, NFL teams can carry a total of 90 players on their respective rosters throughout training camp. This number must be reduced to 75 following the third preseason weekend—this year's case being August 26.
The final trimming to 53 takes place on August 30.
For a further description of roster cuts and deadlines, check out the latest release of NFL important dates.
Determining exactly who gets cut by the 49ers can be a challenging thing. There is a lot of talent within this franchise, even in the deeper realms of the roster.
Some players are almost assuredly going to be cut. Others have a good chance, but strong showings during the remainder of camp and into the preseason may change that. Then, of course, there are those players who justify us taking wild guesses.
Naturally, the preseason will shake things up quite a bit. We may see performances from bubble players whom we did not expect. Players presumed to make the roster may also slip.
At any rate, here is an early prediction of the initial roster cuts San Francisco will make as it trims its roster from 90 to 75 players.
Training Camp Cuts Already in the Books
Technically, these transactions are not necessarily a part of the first wave of 49ers' roster cuts in the preseason. These two cuts have already taken place during training camp and will subsequently not be included on the August 26 deadline.
Still, they do provide some insight into what the 49ers' plans are heading forward.
The full list of San Francisco's transactions thus far can be viewed here, per CBS Sports.
Fou Fonoti, G
Waived/Injured on July 30
Former Michigan State guard Fou Fonoti is the latest member of the 49ers to be taken off the 90-man roster. Fonoti, an undrafted free agent (UDFA) in 2014, was injured during training camp and was then subsequently waived.
In his place, the 49ers signed running back Alfonso Smith.
The injury did give San Francisco some options, however. Since he cleared waivers, the 49ers could place him on injured reserve, and he would not count against the roster totals at any point. According to David Fucillo of Niners Nation, Fonoti was talented in college, but he just needs a little refinement.
Perhaps that comes in 2015 now.
OL Fou Fonoti clears waivers, 49ers place him on injured reserve. That means he’ll be around to compete next year.— Niners Nation (@NinersNation) July 30, 2014
Kory Faulkner, QB
Waived on July 29
The 49ers parted ways with another UDFA following the 2014 draft when they waived strong-armed quarterback Kory Faulkner out of Southern Illinois.
Faulkner's most likely use was to provide competition for the 49ers' third-string quarterback slot—a position battle involving backups Josh Johnson and McLeod Bethel-Thompson.
Philipp will likely compete for a spot on San Francisco's practice squad, per Fucillo.
Sure to Be Cut
The surefire cuts are perhaps the easiest to predict.
Without spending too much time looking at the 49ers' 90-man roster, most of us should be able to find a good chunk of players who have almost zero chance of making the roster in 2014. Many were brought in as mere competition during camp or insurance for any injury in the preseason, etc.
Colton Schmidt, P
This is perhaps the easiest assumption to make in this entire slideshow, so let's get it out of the way first.
Behind incumbent punter Andy Lee, Colton Schmidt has virtually no chance of making the roster in 2014. The only way this happens is if Lee suffers any sort of injury during the first three weeks of the preseason.
We won't rule out that possibility—if anything, we hope against it—but Schmidt's release will be one of the easier decisions the 49ers' brass makes leading up to the regular season.
D.J. Campbell, S
Two-year pro D.J. Campbell was brought on in early 2014 to a reserve/future contract, per Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee.
#49ers signed former Cal safety D.J. Campbell to a reserve/future contract. He had been with Carolina and Dolphins. The team also signed ...— Matt Barrows (@mattbarrows) January 15, 2014
Having spent the prior two years split between the Carolina Panthers and Miami Dolphins, he does have a limited amount of experience under his belt—nine regular season games to be exact.
Campbell is buried on San Francisco's depth chart, however, and would have to thwart other veterans such as Eric Reid, Antoine Bethea, Craig Dahl, C.J. Spillman and Bubba Ventrone. That's not going to happen.
But as David Fucillo of Niners Nation points out, Campbell is eligible for the practice squad and has a better chance of making the roster a year from now given some of the contractual situations with the aforementioned players.
James McCray, S
Another UDFA signed by the 49ers after the 2014 draft was safety James "L.J." McCray out of Catawba.
McCray missed the entire 2011 season with an injury, so there are some durability concerns remaining, but he did showcase some skill on special teams, per Steve Muench of Scout's Inc., (via Bill Williamson of ESPN.com)—perhaps justifying why the 49ers signed him.
But like many UDFAs, McCray has almost an insurmountable chance of making the roster in 2014.
While he is eligible for the practice squad, much of that decision will hinder on how he performs during the preseason and whether or not San Francisco's coaches feel as if he can contribute in some way in a developmental aspect.
As such, don't expect to see him on the roster this season.
Chase Thomas, OLB
Outside linebacker Chase Thomas initially signed with the New Orleans Saints as an UDFA prior to the 2013 season, then he made his way through a number of teams before signing with the 49ers in May.
A Stanford prospect, Thomas has familiarity with coaches Jim Harbaugh and Vic Fangio. Fangio has worked plenty with him, per Eric Branch of SF Gate, but Thomas understands that nothing is guaranteed.
Jim Harbaugh had high praise for Shane Skov, Dan Skuta and Chase Thomas about their quest for a starting spot at linebacker.— Steve Corkran (@CorkOnTheNFL) July 27, 2014
Thomas is buried deep on San Francisco's outside linebacker depth chart behind Aldon Smith, Ahmad Brooks, Corey Lemonier, Dan Skuta and Aaron Lynch. The only way for Thomas to make the team is if Smith's pending suspension, in combination with injuries, shakes up the chart.
Fortunately for Thomas, he is still eligible for the practice squad—a likely destination considering the circumstances.
Kaleb Ramsey, DT
Defensive tackle Kaleb Ramsey has a fair share of injury problems.
This is evidenced by the fact that he spent six years at Boston College before eventually being drafted by San Francisco in 2014 in the seventh round.
At his best, Ramsey is a big, physical specimen, but his injury history is something that certainly thwarts any lofty expectations placed upon him.
Thus, it should have been no surprise that he started camp on the team's physically unable to play (PUP) list per Barrows.
#49ers placed draft picks OLB Aaron Lynch and DL Kaleb Ramsey on the PUP list today.— Matt Barrows (@mattbarrows) July 17, 2014
Placing him on the PUP list instead of the non-football injury list suggests that this is something Ramsey suffered in camp opposed to a collegiate injury.
Considering his history, this isn't a good sign, and this argument is also made by Fucillo.
Ramsey's future will be entirely contingent on his recovery. If he is able to make it back from this injury, the likeliest of destinations will be on the practice squad. But if the injury lingers to any significant point, the 49ers will probably just part ways with him.
Kevin Greene, TE
The battle for San Francisco's third tight end slot heated up a bit when the 49ers inked UDFA Kevin Greene out of USC last May.
Greene, 6'4" and 255 pounds, saw action in 37 games for the Trojans, including nine games in 2013. While at USC, Greene spent time at tight end and defensive end/linebacker, where he registered 11 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery, per 49ers.com.
While Greene does have some likable attributes, it is hard to overlook the plethora of players ahead of him in the competition for the No. 3 slot. With Vernon Davis and Vance McDonald securing the Nos 1 and 2 positions, the final choice comes from a competition between Garrett Celek, Derek Carrier, Asante Cleveland and Greene.
Those are a lot of bodies to overcome.
It is feasible that Greene makes the practice squad, but the 49ers may have simply signed him to put some pressure on the remaining cast of tight end backups.
Greene won't be on the roster by the end of August.
David Reed, WR
Had wide receiver David Reed been signed prior to the 2013 season, he may have had an outside chance to crack San Francisco's roster. We remember just how thin the 49ers were at the position heading into that season.
Now, San Francisco's receiving crop is stacked, which leaves almost zero room for fringe players such as Reed to earn a roster spot.
Reed was signed to a reserve/future contract back in January when San Francisco's receiving situation was still much in doubt. With some of the offseason additions, Reed's future looks about as grim with the 49ers as possible.
Reed does have some experience in the return game, totaling 24 kick returns for the Indianapolis Colts last season. Perhaps he has a shot at making the roster if LaMichael James' injury affects his return longer than expected.
Even so, that possibility is a long shot at best. Reed is ineligible for the practice squad, so the 49ers will likely just part ways with him when they see fit.
Most Likely to Be Cut
On the previous slide, we listed players who have virtually zero chance to survive the first wave of cuts made by San Francisco in 2014.
Let's bump it up a notch and start evaluating the players who do have an outside chance of making it through this round. Their chances are still grim at best, but surprising performances could mandate a 49ers' decision to keep them around a little while longer.
Kenneth Acker, CB
The 49ers made no qualms about adding a sizable chunk of defensive backs during the 2014 NFL draft. Sixth rounder Kenneth Acker was one such selection.
At Southern Methodist, Acker had 159 total tackles, six interceptions and 32 passes defended over a four-year span.
There is a lot to like about the 6-foot-0, 195-pound cornerback, but he remains in stiff competition for San Francisco's depth chart in the backfield.
The 49ers have a lot of bodies—many with experience—ahead of Acker. We can almost guarantee Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver securing the Nos. 1 and 2 corner positions. Rookie Jimmie Ward, Perrish Cox and Darryl Morris are contending for the slot cornerback job.
Offseason free-agent acquisition Chris Cook is also in the mix.
That leaves Acker and fellow rookie Dontae Johnson—a fourth-round pick—to fight for the scraps.
It can be called a hunch, but this author thinks the 49ers would like to hold onto Acker for a while and see if they can develop him into something viable.
His likely destination will be the practice squad if he clears waivers, so I wouldn't be surprised if the 49ers don't showcase him much during the preseason.
Mike Purcell, DT
Defensive tackle Mike Purcell was picked up by the 49ers prior to the 2013 season as an UDFA. He spent his rookie season on the team's practice squad and should be considered another candidate to land there again in 2014.
Like many of the 49ers' fringe players, Purcell has plenty of hurdles to overcome in terms of hoping to secure a roster spot.
The depth along San Francisco's defensive line is even more impressive this season. The much-anticipated debut of 2013 draft pick Tank Carradine is just one of many storylines the 49ers will follow this season.
With the defensive ends looking all but locked, Purcell's best chance to earn a spot would likely be at nose tackle—an argument made by David Fucillo of Niners Nation.
The tandem of Glenn Dorsey and Ian Williams will likely split time during the regular season with second-year pro Quinton Dial being sprinkled in.
That leaves little room for Purcell.
But as we saw with Williams last year, the defensive tackle position can suffer some attrition. Williams has already gone through injury issues in camp, so perhaps this opens the door for Purcell to a certain extent.
Any injury to the defensive front could mean Purcell sticks around longer than expected. He'd likely be the next in line to earn a promotion within this unit, but that would mean an elongated injury has transpired.
Dillon Farrell, C
UDFA Dillon Farrell was one of San Francisco's 2014 UDFA signees prior to camp, and it makes sense why the 49ers wanted to give him a chance to earn the roster spot.
In the wake of veteran Jonathan Goodwin's departure, the 49ers put forth Daniel Kilgore and 2014 draftee Marcus Martin as the primary bodies to take over in Goodwin's stead.
Farrell was meant to provide some competition here.
Via Bill Williamson of ESPN.com, Steve Muench of Scouts Inc. discussed the 49ers probably being attracted to Farrell's 6-foot-5 and 309-pound frame along with his long arms (33 3/8").
Barring a rapid attrition at center, Farrell has virtually zero chance of making the roster at this position.
But he has been playing some time in camp at outside tackle, per Fucillo, which adds to his versatility and gives him a slightly better shot at staying on the roster for a while longer.
Farrell might get some looks during the preseason as the 49ers evaluate some of their depth options on the offensive line. San Francisco's best option may be to stash him away on the practice squad for a year and hope to develop him into a long-term backup down the road.
Asante Cleveland, TE
Fellow UDFA Asante Cleveland was another one of those physical specimens the 49ers saw some possible value in following the 2014 NFL draft.
At 6'4" and 260 pounds, Cleveland was not primarily used as an offensive weapon at the University of Miami. He netted a mere 14 receptions for 151 yards and one touchdown during his four-year collegiate campaign.
But Muench, (via Williamson) suggests that Cleveland has the outside chance to become a better pro than collegiate athlete. He writes:
He’s intriguing because he has the potential to be a better pro than college player. At 6-foot-4 and 262 pounds, he has the frame to develop into an effective blocker. While he has below average top-end speed, he is a big target with big hands and long arms.
On top of this, Cleveland could be the type of tight end utilized by the 49ers in various jumbo packages requiring extra blockers on the outside. Perhaps they see Cleveland as a specialist filling this role.
Aside from that, however, Cleveland has relatively few things going for him. The competition at tight end has already been described on the previous slide, and Cleveland's lack of collegiate production is going to hurt his chances.
Unless San Francisco's coaching staff has a specific, well-hidden plan for him, Cleveland will probably not make the roster in 2014. The team could consider him as a developmental prospect, however, and he could, in theory, be a worthy addition to the practice squad.
Chuck Jacobs, WR
Wide receiver Chuck Jacobs couldn't make the team a year ago when San Francisco's depleted receiving corps was in desperate need.
A year under his belt has given him a slightly better chance to impact the offense in 2014, but when factoring in the changes made by the 49ers at the position, Jacobs is once again pushed back to the periphery.
This doesn't mean the 49ers have totally given up on him. In fact, anything but this has been the case. Jacobs is still getting plenty of work, and he is getting plenty of work in training camp, per Taylor Price of 49ers.com.
But as we've stated, Jacobs has plenty of hurdles to overcome if he hopes to stick around on the roster, most notably the vastly increased depth at the position.
Perhaps his best chance to stay will be based on whether or not he becomes a legitimate special teams contributor. This is the argument made by Fucillo, who argues that this is perhaps the only way Jacobs avoids another practice squad assignment.
Harbaugh says WR Chuck Jacobs, and FS C.J. Spillman were doing well on punt/coverage yesterday!— Ryan Sakamoto (@SakamotoRyan) August 1, 2014
We may get to see a good amount of work from depth receivers Jacobs in the preseason. The 49ers will probably rest veterans such as Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree for most of the four games—if not for the entire duration—so perhaps Jacobs is showcased for a bit.
It is still hard to fathom him staying around. The practice squad would be the likeliest of landing spots if he clears waivers.
On the Bubble
OK, so we have worked our way through the likeliest of players to be waived by the 49ers during their first phase of cuts after the third preseason week.
Let's jump into the guys who may stick around for the entirety of the preseason but, for whatever reasons, should be classified as being on the roster bubble.
We note that these players could very well be cut by the end of the preseason. But for argument's sake, let us just focus on whether or not they last through the first 15 cuts San Francisco will make.
Raymond "Bubba" Ventrone, S
At 27 years old, Raymond Ventrone offers virtually nothing from a defensive standpoint. He does, however, offer plenty as a special teams ace and was one of the primary reasons San Francisco's ST unit performed much better in 2013 after Ventrone joined the team.
Eric Branch of SF Gate wrote an article last December that highlights just what Ventrone brought to the 49ers.
Should we expect the 49ers to hope for similar production out of Ventrone in 2014?
Ventrone and fellow veteran Kassim Osgood fit the mold of players who excel solely on special teams. Their roles are established, and there is little aside from that which makes them worthy of a roster spot.
But this has kept them in the mix for a job so far.
It is possible perhaps even likely at some point that Ventrone is cut before Week 1 of the regular season. It is easy to predict the 49ers get younger and cheaper all around, including on special teams.
Ventrone will likely compete with fellow special teamers Kassim Osgood and Blake Costanzo for, at most, the two spots available.
Granted, this decision may not fall until the second wave of cuts San Francisco has to make. But for the sake of exploring some of the other options the 49ers have on special teams, let's assume they get younger and cheaper.
That's where Ventrone gets released.
Devon Wylie, WR
Third-year pro Devon Wylie is an interesting commodity in San Francisco's large arsenal of wide receivers.
At 5'9" and 187 pounds, there is no question that he is undersized, but he does offer some great speed—he ran a 4.36 in the 40-yard dash during the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine, per David Fucillo of Niners Nation and could prove versatile out of the slot if the 49ers see such use for him there.
Wyle is well-traveled in his short career. Just look at his linked statistics for reference.
He also has some return experience, and the 49ers have experimented with him handling punts while LaMichael James recovers from a dislocated elbow, per Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee.
According to Fucillo, Wylie's chief competition is with fellow receiver Chuck Jacobs—another player who appears destined for the practice squad.
Wylie retains eligibility for the practice squad as well, but with only so many spots to fill, the 49ers will have a tough time deciding whether or not Wylie is worth retaining in some form or another.
If the 49ers do not like what they are seeing from other returners in James' absence, Wylie perhaps has a shot to stick around after the third preseason week.
But that remains a long shot at best.
Jon Baldwin, WR
Last season's trade for the former first-round pick of the Kansas City Chiefs was likely more a contractual move than anything else.
In short, the 49ers could get out from under Jon Baldwin's contract sooner than they could from Jenkins. Additionally, Baldwin took a pay cut prior to the 2014 season, per Field Yates of ESPN (h/t Barrows).
Source: 49ers WR Jon Baldwin has reworked his contract. Base salary in 2014 is now $645k (down from $1.4M). $755 available in incentives.— Field Yates (@FieldYates) February 20, 2014
On the field last year, Baldwin did very little—hauling in a mere three receptions for 28 yards while being active in only seven games.
Had the 49ers not reinforced their receiving corps this offseason, Baldwin's chances of making the roster still would have been grim, at least according to Bill Williamson of ESPN who wrote so back in February.
His chances remain even dimmer now.
But here is where Baldwin could last through the first phase of cuts, which moves him up from a sure thing to be cut into the bubble watch.
It is feasible that the 49ers try and showcase Baldwin to a large extent during the preseason, perhaps to give veterans like Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree some rest before the regular season kicks off.
By doing so, San Francisco may entice some other team in need of a receiver to offer up a trade. It's an unlikely scenario, but it's one that bears possibility.
Baldwin will almost assuredly not be on the roster in Week 1. But he stands a halfway decent chance of lasting through the entirety of the preseason.
We'll have to see how that plays out.
Surprising Cuts That Could Happen
The 49ers need to make 15 cuts by the August 26 deadline.
If you have been counting, that number is 14 after having listed the prior players who will likely be cut. That leaves one player on the outside looking in.
But for the sake of discussion, let's list two surprising cuts that could happen in the first phase of 49ers releases.
One or the other scenario could happen, possibly both.
Lawrence Okoye, DE
This cut might make a little more sense when you factor in the likelihood that plenty of other NFL teams are eyeballing what the British Olympian might be capable of doing on the football field.
Okoye, who had never played a down of organized football prior to being signed as an UDFA in 2013, has made tremendous strides on the field leading up to 2014.
Eric Branch of SF Gate describes his rise to prominence by writing:
His chances of playing in the regular season appear slight, but it’s worth noting Okoye’s history of improbably leaping from amateur to expert: Two years after taking up track, the former junior rugby player broke the 13-year-old British record in the discus and reached the finals at the 2012 Summer Olympics. In the midst of his next challenge, he’s enjoying the ability to make an impact.
Branch also points out the physical strength Okoye has demonstrated and how that strength has impressed coaches like Jim Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
Still, we cannot overlook the fact that Okoye has a lot of learning to do. Here is where an early cut makes some sense.
The 49ers are obviously intrigued by Okoye's physical strength. There is no getting around that. But showcasing that during the preseason would give other teams an excellent opportunity to scout this project player.
If San Francisco elects to waive Okoye in an attempt to put him on the practice squad, someone else may be enticed to claim him.
We certainly want to see what Okoye is capable of on the field against NFL competition. Other teams probably feel the same way.
So it is reasonable to assume perhaps even likely the 49ers play down Okoye's development and waive him early on, thus giving the impression that he would not be worth a waiver claim.
It would be a smart move from the 49ers' standpoint even if it comes off as a bit of a shock.
Brandon Lloyd, WR
For the record, this author would much more prefer the 49ers to find some sort of way to get veteran offseason acquisition Brandon Lloyd into the mix during the 2014 season.
But this scenario is anything but guaranteed.
We've well established the fact that San Francisco's receiving corps is stocked entering the season. Just by a brief glimpse, we can determine that it would be hard to find a specific role for Lloyd to fit into.
Yes, Lloyd has had a good offseason program thus far, per Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area. But even Maiocco acknowledges that Lloyd doesn't have an easy road to making the final roster.
Further complicating the matter is the fact that Lloyd has zero ability on special teams. Suiting up a sixth wide receiver would make sense if he contributed on the special teams unit—in the mold of fellow wideout Kassim Osgood—but not being able to do so hurts him here.
Now that Brandon Lloyd is with the 49ers, here's a look at the competition for roster spots/playing time at WR. http://t.co/oWFJnt7rQE— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoCSN) April 15, 2014
Maiocco goes into further detail surrounding the situation with Lloyd. He writes:
Lloyd did not play last season. And he turns 33 in July. Plus, his scheduled salary is $1 million, which becomes fully guaranteed if he opens the regular season on the roster. He has no special-teams value, and that’s a must if he does not beat out [Stevie] Johnson for the No. 3 job.
Regardless of how well Lloyd's offseason regimen has been, the chances of him actually making the roster remain in doubt. Perhaps the 49ers signed him as insurance in case they were unable to upgrade the receiving unit during the offseason.
But after trading for Stevie Johnson and drafting Bruce Ellington, this group is much deeper than it was before. The team can also count on a healthy Michael Crabtree and Quinton Patton returning to the fray.
Perhaps the only way Lloyd sticks around is if he has a phenomenal preseason. San Francisco should perhaps hope for this, but the situation remains in doubt.
As well as everyone knows, the preseason is merely a phase for teams to evaluate its players and prepare them for the rigors of the regular season.
More importantly, it gives coaches the chance to determine which fringe players are best suited for the team's needs moving forward. This becomes especially evident during the latter half of the preseason program.
And, of course, it coincides with the first phase of roster cuts.
Some of these roster cuts are all but guaranteed to happen. Others will likely take place, barring some incredulous performances or unfortunate injuries.
Whatever the case may be, we should be certain that San Francisco's coaching staff will take close stock on what the team has on hand. After four weeks of evaluation following training camp, it will be the best efforts of this evaluation that matter most.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers. Be sure to check out his entire archive on 49ers news, insight and analysis.
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