Sakamoto: 49ers 53-man roster prediction for 2017

GM John Lynch Rebuilding from Inside/Out

San Francisco 49ers GM John Lynch wanted to rebuild this team from the ground up. He understands games are won down in the trenches. Probably why he invested heavily in the team’s defensive front seven. More importantly, the new general manager wanted players who eat, sleep, and breathe football. To sum it all up in one word, “passion.” 

Think like the current General Manager

I try to see things from the GM’s point of view when it comes to rounding out my 53-man roster predictions. As a result, I take into account numerous factors. From a business and/or financial perspective to scheme fits, I try to predict the future as best I can.

2014: 44/53 = 84%

2015: 49/53 = 92%

2016: 46/53 = 87%

Over the past three years, I have yielded an 87% success rate on predicting the final 53. Not bad right? Well, this year may be a different story. The team is transitioning to a 4-3 scheme. The newfound cultural identity puts any former GM Trent Baalke holdover on notice, and the new coaching staff’s emphasis on fundamentals is no longer a necessity but a requirement. 

These are reasons why predicting this year’s 53 is by far my hardest to predict. But I will do my best. So without further ado, here is my 53-man roster for 2017. 

The following players do NOT count against the 53-man roster and are still on team.

Player designation:

IR- Injured Reserve (does NOT count against 53-man active roster)

  • WR B.J. Johnson III
  • LB Malcolm Smith
  • LB Donavin Newsome
  • LB Jimmie Gilbert
  • S Chanceller James

Quarterbacks (2)

Starter: QB Brian Hoyer

Backup: QB C.J. Beathard

Analysis: The 49ers stick with two quarterbacks to start the season. Hoyer is penciled in as the day one starter while Beathard’s future looks promising as the team’s primary backup.

Four-year veteran QB Matt Barkley has shown little during preseason play to prove he’s worthy of a roster spot, despite what HC Kyle Shanahan may say in his pressers. 

Running Backs/Fullback (5)

Starter: RB Carlos Hyde & FB Kyle Juszczyk 

Backup: RB Joe WilliamsRB Matt BreidaRB Raheem Mostert

Analysis: Hyde is clearly Shanahan’s workhorse. “Juice” is the team’s swiss army-knife. Williams will be groomed for the future. Breida and Mostert both add value on special-teams. Unfortunately it comes down to a numbers game. Someone is going to be left out. Sorry RB Tim Hightower. We can always pick a player of your caliber up, if we are in a bind, off the waiver wire. 

Wide Receivers (5)

Starters: WR Pierre Garçon and WR Marquise Goodwin

Backups: WR Jeremy KerleyWR Aldrick Robinson, WR Trent Taylor

Analysis: The 49ers bolstered their receiving unit by adding three solid players who fit Shanahan’s scheme. Garçon, Goodwin, and Robinson. All three had their choices of teams to play for. They opted for San Francisco.

To think those three aren’t locks to make the team is being naive. Unrestricted free-agents don’t sign with a team hoping they make the 53-man roster, especially if they have other options on the table. Those conversations took place at the time they signed on the dotted line. 

Taylor will be the team’s primary returner on game days at some point during the season. His lateral agility, toughness, and fearless play suit that role. 

Sure, WR Victor Bolden Jr. had some nice returns during preseason play, but adds little value at the receiver position. The team already has a plethora of slot receivers with Kerley and Taylor so where does Bolden fit? He doesn’t. 

Tight Ends (3)

Starter: TE George Kittle

Backups: TE Logan PaulsenTE Garrett Celek

Analysis: The team recently wiped their hands clean of Baalke holdover TE Vance McDonald. The move opened the door for Kittle to step into the starting role. Paulsen was added primarily for blocking duties while providing a nasty mean streak on the offensive side of the ball. Celek provides stability to the positions as a solid backup at best. 

Tackles (3)

Starters: T Joe StaleyT Trent Brown

Backup: T Garry Gilliam 

Analysis: Staley and Brown will be the starting bookend tackles for the second consecutive season. Gilliam will be the emergency swing tackle. The 49ers didn’t sign Gilliam to a restricted free-agent offer sheet for nothing. They saw value and guaranteed Gilliam a spot on the 53 when he signed on the dotted line. Make no mistake about it. 49ers keep three tackles to kickoff 2017. 

Guards (4)

Starters: G Zane Beadles, G Brandon Fusco

Backups: G Laken Tomlinson, G Erik Magnuson

Analysis: The 49ers continue to make moves in order to shore up this shaky offensive line. Just hours before kickoff, the team announced a trade for G Laken Tomlinson. The move in all likelihood points to last year’s first-round pick G Joshua Garnett being sent to the IR. In addition, it opens the door for Tomlinson to work his way into the starting rotation against G Zane Beadles on the left side. 

Magnuson has shown plenty of promise throughout training camp and preseason. Shanahan and Lynch both see a raw prospect they can groom for the future. Why? Because Magnuson is arguably the team’s most versatile young offensive lineman. He can kick outside and be serviceable as an emergency right tackle. He can kick inside as a swing guard all while having the high football IQ to manage center. 

Center (2)

Starter: C Daniel Kilgore

Backup: C Tim Barnes

Analysis: The team released last year’s Pro Bowl center C Jeremy Zuttah. They clearly believe Kilgore is better. Backing up Kilgore will be none other than journeyman Barnes. 

Defensive End (5)

Starters: DE Tank Carradine, DE Arik Armstead

Backups: DE Solomon Thomas, DE Elvis Dumervil, DE Aaron Lynch

Analysis: The 49ers appear set at the defensive end position. Anchoring the six-technique (strong side of formation) will be “dominant edge-setter,” and “damn near elite six-techniqueDE Tank Carradine. Playing the nine-technique ‘LEO‘ position will be oft-injured yet promising third-year DE Arik Armstead

Game-changerDE Solomon Thomas will be the backup six-technique while rotating in the team’s sub package.

Dumervil is a pass-rush specialist and will likely make the team due to his veteran leadership and locker room presence alone. 

Defensive Tackle (4)

(Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Starters: DT Earl Mitchell (1-tech) and DT DeForest Buckner (3-tech) 

Backups: DT Chris Jones, DT Quinton Dial (1-tech)

Analysis: Plugging up the middle will be second-year phenom DT DeForest Buckner and prized free-agent DT Earl Mitchell. Buckner will be playing the role of three-technique. Mitchell will be playing the one-technique. The difference? The three-technique defensive tackle lines up in one-gap position between the outside shoulder of the guard and inside shoulder of the tackle. His gap responsibility is strictly to plug up the b-gap while generating an organic pass-rush up the middle. 

The one-technique is much like a zero-technique 3-4 nose tackle. His main responsibility is to stuff the run at the POA (point of attack). Pass rush is secondary for the position. 

Playing behind Buckner and Mitchell will be high-motor DT Chris Jones and Dial.

Outside Linebacker (4)

Starters: OLB Reuben Foster and OLB Eli Harold 

Backups: OLB Dekoda Watson, OLB Ray-Ray Armstrong

Analysis: Despite being the new kid in town, Foster has been playing lights out. Setting the edge on the opposite side will be third-year OLB Eli Harold. Watson was added to provide veteran leadership, depth, and a special-teams presence. Armstrong has what Coach Saleh covets and that’s a nasty mean streak and non-stop motor. 

Inside Linebacker (2)

Starter: MLB NaVorro Bowman

Backup: MLB Brock Coyle

Analysis: The Niners are pretty much set at the middle with Bowman there. Coyle adds special-teams value and was a free-agent signing from the Seahawks so he will definitely make it.  

Cornerback (5)

Starter: CB Rashard Robinson, CB Dontae Johnson

Backup: CB K’Waun Williams, CB Keith Reaser, CB Ahkello Witherspoon

Analysis: There was no question in my mind that Robinson and DJ would be the day one starters.

Playing behind those two long cornerbacks will be Witherspoon and Reaser. Williams will be the slot cornerback to kickoff the season. 

Free-Safety (3)

Starter: FS Jimmie Ward

Backups: FS Jaquiski Tartt, FS Adrian Colbert

Analysis: The single-high safety role requires a high football IQ and elite range to cover the deep-third. Ward is the best ballhawking defensive back on the roster at doing that. Tartt is playing out of position in my opinion but will be penciled in as the backup. Colbert makes the team because his rare combination of HWS and special-teams versatility is too good to pass up. 

Strong Safety (3)

Starter: SS Eric Reid

Backup: SS Vinnie Sunseri, SS Lorenzo Jerome

Analysis: Reid is the only capable box safety on this team. Tartt would be in this discussion but team is playing him at free-safety. Suneri is a special-teams ace while being cross-trained at both safety spots. Versatility. Jerome makes plays on the ball while also bringing special-teams value. For those reasons, they make the cut. 

Special-Teams (3)

Starter: K Robbie GouldP Bradley Pinion, LS Kyle Nelson


Ryan is the Founder/CEO of, 49ers Beat Writer, Live Game Day Correspondent for Bleacher Report and member of Pro Football Writers of America. Born and raised in San Jose, he also graduated from San Diego State University. His work has been featured on NFL Network, 95.7 The Game, National Football Post, Sports Illustrated, FanSided Network, ESPN Radio, CBS Sports 810, and NBC Bay Area News. For more information, please contact him via email at or call him at (408) 622-0996.