By C.J. Peterson
Special to S.F. Examiner
SANTA CLARA — The San Francisco 49ers are officially at the midpoint of the preseason. After spending the end of last week in Houston, the 49ers will head to Indianapolis for their third game of the 2018 preseason.
With only two weeks before the regular season begins, it’s time for a 53-man roster projection for Week 1.
Quarterback (2): Jimmy Garoppolo, C.J. Beathard
The 49ers gave Garoppolo a $137 million contract over the offseason so it should be no surprise that he’ll be starting under center in Week 1.
C.J. Beathard should get the backup job over Nick Mullens despite Mullen’s game-winning drive in Week 1 of the preseason.Don’t be shocked if Mullens lands a backup job elsewhere in the league.
Running back (4): Jerick McKinnon, Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert, Alfred Morris
The man on the outside looking in for this group is Joe Williams. After spending the 2017 season on injury reserve, Williams looked ready to have a strong camp and make the team. But a 27-yard performance on 11 carries in the preseason opener(2.5 yards per) all but closed that door.
With recent injuries to McKinnon (high calf strain; out until the season opener) and Breida (shoulder), the 49ers elected to bring in former Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys running back Alfred Morris, who should bump Williams out of the fourth RB spot as a result.
Fullback (1): Kyle Juszczyk
In a league where the FB position is nearly extinct, Kyle Shanahan will be using Juszczyk quite a bit as a Swiss Army knife option in the run game and the pass game.
Wide receiver (6): Marquise Goodwin, Pierre Garcon, Trent Taylor, Kendrick Bourne, Dante Pettis, Richie James Jr.
By adding Pettis and James to their passing game, San Francisco has the chance to add more versatility to their weapons arsenal. With Pettis’ funky route running and James’ presence in the slot, the 49ers could have one of the best top-to-bottom receiving corps in the NFC West.
Tight end (3): George Kittle, Garrett Celek , Cole Hikutini
Kittle and Celek were the most consistent tight ends for San Francisco last season so keeping them on the roster should be a no-brainer. The third tight end spot should go to Hikutini unless former Lions TE Cole Wick can change Shanahan’s mind in the next two weeks. Hikutini has shown a strong ability to catch the ball in traffic. His run-blocking does need work, however.
Offensive line (8): T Joe Staley, G Laken Tomlinson, C Weston Richburg, G Joshua Garnett*, T Mike McGlinchey, G Erik Magnuson, T/G Garry Gilliam, G Jonathan Cooper
Garnett has an asterisk because he could go either way. He’s coming back after missing two weeks of camp and Week 1 of the preseason with a knee contusion. It is also the same knee that required surgery and landed him on injured reserve in 2017.
The good news for Garnett, however, is that he did participate in his first two fully-padded practices this week in Houston and is expected to play moving forward.
If his knee can hold up when “fatigue sets in,” according to Shanahan, Garnett will likely be the starter at right guard comeWeek 1. If not, he could be good as gone.
Inside linebacker (4): Malcolm Smith, Fred Warner, Brock Coyle, Korey Toomer, Reuben Foster*
* It is important to note that Foster will not be counted towards the active 53-man roster in Weeks 1 and 2 due to the serving of his two-game suspension to start the season. Fred Warner should see those snaps, especially if Smith’s hamstring injury keeps him out for the season-opener as well.
Once Foster does come back, though, the 49ers will have a decision to make as to who they will cut in order to make room for the former Alabama star and first-round pick.
Outside linebacker (5): Eli Harold, Jeremiah Attaochu, Dekoda Watson, Mark Nzeocha, Cassius Marsh
Eli Harold is the tentative starting SAM linebacker for the 49ers. Due to a knee injury sustained against Dallas, however, thatposition could be up for grabs amongst this group.
Defensive line (8): DeForest Buckner, Solomon Thomas, Arik Armstead, Earl Mitchell, Sheldon Day, Julian Taylor, Ronald Blair, D.J. Jones
Taylor turned heads against Dallas by giving opposing offensive linemen nightmares, manhandling them for the majority of the night.
Taking reps as a starter in place of the injured Armstead, Taylor has looked solid so far in camp. Should he make the team, look for Taylor to produce in the defensive lineman rotation.
Cornerback (6): Richard Sherman, Ahkello Witherspoon, K’Waun Williams, Jimmie Ward, D.J. Reed, Tarvarius Moore
The cornerback position has been ravaged by injury in camp, as Sherman, Williams and Ward have all been sidelined at some point with lower body ailments. During their time out, Reed and Moore have stepped up in their place during practice.
Reed can play both corner and safety which makes him extremely valuable for defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.
Safety (3): Jaquiski Tartt, Adrian Colbert, Chancellor James
This group should have 3 1/2 players as Reed can play at safety as well (and has been playing nickel cornerback). Tartt has been the 49ers’ most consistent defensive back all camp while Colbert has shown steady improvement from his rookie season a year ago.
Specialists (3): K Robbie Gould, P Bradley Pinion, LS Kyle Nelson
No surprises in this group. Gould went 39-for-41 on field goals — hitting 4-of-4 from 50+ yards and 17-of-18 from 40-49yards — last season and Pinion is on the last year of his contract. With Nelson as the long snapper, this group is pretty much set in stone.