Predicting the 49ers 53 man roster and depth chart

Rather than grade the different areas of the Niners defense – which would all get varying degrees of A – I’m going to predict the Niners 53 man roster and depth chart.

QUATERBACKS

1. Alex Smith

2. Josh Johnson

3. Colin Kaepernick

Analysis: I expect Johnson to win the battle for the backup quarterback job in training camp, and Scott Tolzien to be the odd man out.

RUNNING BACKS

1. Frank Gore

2. Kendall Hunter

3. Brandon Jacobs

4. LaMichael James

5. Rock Cartwright

Analysis: Even though James is a second-round pick, I expect him to start the season at the bottom of the running back depth chart. He has to prove he’s a better RB than Kendal Hunter, who’s stronger and more experienced than James. I expect Jacobs to make the roster as the goal line back over Anthony Dixon because Jacobs has scored 16 TDs the last two seasons and Dixon’s scored four. Rock Cartwright is technically a running back, but he’ll primarily play special teams.

WIDE RECEIVERS

1. Mario Manningham (Flanker)

2. Michael Crabtree (Split end/slot)

3. Randy Moss (Split end)

4. A.J. Jenkins (Slot)

5. Ted Ginn Jr.

Analysis: Manningham is the best receiver on the team. I expect he’ll play most of the offensive snaps this season. Crabtree complements Manningham because he’s a bigger possession receiver who goes over the middle. Manningham is a home run threat down the sidelines. Randy Moss is a home run threat too, and I imagine Greg Roman will call a couple of shot plays for Moss every game. Mostly though, Moss will help the Niners in the red zone – he’s their tallest receiver. A.J. Jenkins will be a good backup this season, and Ted Ginn Jr. will be the returner, but I expect he’ll play sparingly on offense. He’s not a good receiver – he’s only good at the Fly Sweep, or the reverse. But Manningham ran those plays in college at Michigan, and he’ll probably run them for the Niners this season. Kyle Williams will play well in training camp but ultimately get cut because he can’t be trusted to return punts anymore and the Niners would rather carry a fourth outside linebacker than a fifth wide receiver.

TIGHT ENDS

1. Vernon Davis

2. Delanie Walker

3. Nate Byham

ANALYSIS: Byham is the blocking tight end. When he’s in the game, Vernon Davis will line up at wide receiver. I expect the Niners to experiment with this personnel group because they want to make Davis as involved in the passing game as possible. I expect Walker will line up all over the formation – even at fullback occasionally.

FULLBACK

1. Bruce Miller

ANALYSIS: No more Moran Norris.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

1. Joe Staley

2. Mike Iupati

3. Jonathan Goodwin

4. Daniel Kilgore

5. Anthony Davis

6. Alex Boone

7. Joe Looney

8. Jason Slowey*

9. Mike Person*

ANALYSIS: Kilgore will win the right guard job and he’ll also back up Goodwin at center. Looney will back up both guards, and Boone will back up both tackles. Slowey and Person will make the team but will not suit up for games.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES

1. Justin Smith

2. Isaac Sopoaga

3. Ray McDonald

4. Will Tukuafu

5. Ricky Jean Francois

6. Demarcus Dobbs*

7. Ian Williams*

ANALYSIS: The same seven as last season. Tukuafu will back up Smith and McDonald, and Jean Francois will back up Sopoaga. Dobbs will get stronger and add weight so next season he can become a five-tech DT like Smith and McDonald and Tukuafu. Ian Williams will continue to develop into the Niners nose tackle of the future.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS

1. Patrick Willis

2. NaVorro Bowman

3. Larry Grant

4. Tavares Gooden

ANALYSIS: The same group as last season, minus Blake Costanzo, which is too bad.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS

1. Aldon Smith

2. Ahmad Brooks

3. Darius Fleming

4. Cam Johnson*

ANALYSIS: Aldon Smith will start and play most of the defensive snaps this season, and Ahmad Brooks will too, so the Niners will cut Parys Haralson, who would be an expensive, non-special-teams-playing backup this season. Fifth round pick Darius Flemming takes his spot on the roster. Cam Johnson makes the team as Aldon Smith insurance – a backup pass rusher who doesn’t suit up for games his rookie season.

CORNERBACKS

1. Carlos Rogers

2. Tarell Brown

3. Chris Culliver

4. Tramaine Brock*

ANALYSIS: The same group as last season, minus Shawntae Spencer. This season the Niners will roll the dice by carrying just four cornerbacks. They get away with this because they can stash Curtis Holcomb and Cory Nelms – two young corners they like – on the practice squad.

SAFETIES

1. Dashon Goldson

2. Donte Whitner

3. Trenton Robinson

4. C.J. Spillman

5. Colin Jones

ANALYSIS: Robinson immediately takes over for Reggie Smith as the third safety and dime back, i.e. the second DB off the bench after Culliver. Spillman plays a few snaps on goal line defense, but he’s mostly a special teams specialist like Colin Jones.

SPECIALISTS

1. David Akers

2. Andy Lee

3. Brian Jennings

ANALYSIS: Same trio as last season.

KICK RETURNERS

1. Ted Ginn Jr.

2. A.J. Jenkins

ANALYSIS: Jenkins replaces Kendall Hunter as the guy who lines up next to Ginn on kick returns.

PUNT RETURNERS

1. Ted Ginn Jr.

2. LaMichael James

ANALYSIS: James wins the backup punt returner job, so the Niners cut Kyle Williams and Perrish Cox.

* Denotes a player who will make the team but will not suit up for games. 

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