Here are the top-10 position battles on the 49ers I’m looking forward to this offseason. Which battles interest you the most?
1. No.2 and No.3 cornerback: Carlos Rogers vs. Nnamdi Asomugha vs. Chris Culliver. Tarell Brown probably is a lock to start, so Rogers, Asomugha and Culliver will compete for the other two cornerback spots in the 49ers’ Nickel defense. Rogers and Culliver will compete to cover the slot. The loser will compete with Asomugha to be an outside cornerback opposite Brown.
2. No.2 tight end: Vance McDonald vs. Garrett Celek vs. Cameron Morrah. The 49ers traded up to the 55th pick to draft McDonald, so he’s the favorite to win this battle. But he’s a project – he said so himself. Although he has long arms and big hands, he has a tendency to bobble and drop passes. Celek and Morrah might be more polished tight ends right now.
3. No.3 wide receiver: A.J. Jenkins vs. Quinton Patton vs. Kyle Williams. Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin most likely will start. The 49ers need a third receiver for third-down-and-medium-to-long. Mario Manningham could be that player when he returns from knee surgery, but he probably will start the season on the P.U.P. list. Williams was the 49ers’ No.3 receiver last season before he tore his ACL. He will miss the OTAs, but probably will participate in training camp. A.J. Jenkins was the 49ers’ No.1 draft pick last year, so he should be expected to win this job. But Patton, the fourth-round pick this year, might be the favorite. He’s a good route-runner, he attacks the ball in the air and he’s bigger than Jenkins and Williams and Manningham. The receivers who lose this competition probably will not play much because the 49ers rarely use four or five-wide-receiver personnel packages.
4. Free safety: Eric Reid vs. Craig Dahl. The 49ers’ traded up to the 18th pick to draft Reid, so he’s probably going to start, but there’s an outside chance Dahl, the five-year veteran, outplays Reid in training camp and wins the free safety job to start the season.
5. No.2 running back: Kendall Hunter vs. LaMichael James. Frank Gore probably will receive the bulk of the carries for at least one more season, so Hunter and James will compete to be his primary backup. Hunter averaged 5.2 yards per carry last season before he tore his left Achilles tendon on November 25. He says he’ll be ready for training camp, but he might not be 100 percent healthy until the regular season or postseason. If that’s the case, James probably will be the 49ers’ No.2 running back.
6. No.2 quarterback: Colt McCoy vs. Scott Tolzien vs. B.J. Daniels. McCoy probably is the early favorite because he’s the only backup QB on the 49ers’ roster who has played a down in the NFL. But the 49ers are not seriously invested in him – he has one year left on his contract. The 49ers might be more interested in developing Tolzien and/or Daniels.
7. Nose tackle: Glenn Dorsey vs. Ian Williams. Dorsey is the experienced veteran, so he’ll probably win this competition, but he hasn’t played nose tackle before. He’s making a position switch. Ian Williams has years of experience playing nose tackle.
8. Center: Jonathan Goodwin vs. Joe Looney vs. Daniel Kilgore. Goodwin will turn 35 years old in December and the 49ers owe him $3.7 million this season – more than they owe any other offensive lineman. If Looney or Kilgore show they can play center about as well as Goodwin, there’s a possibility the 49ers trade or cut Goodwin and go with a cheaper, younger player at center.
9. Justin Smith’s backup: Tank Carradine vs. Demarcus Dobbs. Dobbs has been a monster in offseason competitions his first two seasons in the NFL. Carradine is the more talented player, but he’s rehabbing a knee surgery and may not play as well as Dobbs in training camp.
10. Ray McDonald’s backup: Quinton Dial vs. Will Tukuafu. Tukuafu technically has been McDonald’s backup at RDE the past two seasons, but he played much more at fullback and special teams last season. If Dial proves he’s a more imposing RDE than Tukuafu, Tukuafu may get cut.