49ers' 53-man roster projection includes complete change at QB

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers must cut their roster to 53 by 4 p.m. ET Saturday, Sept. 2. Here’s a final 53-man roster projection:

QUARTERBACK (3): Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley, C.J. Beathard

For a position that didn't seem to have much drama, things have changed because of how well Beathard has performed in the preseason. He has a strong chance to be the No. 2 quarterback sooner than later, which means the Niners could theoretically only keep two. But the guess here is that Barkley stays so the 49ers have a veteran option in case something happens to Hoyer early in the season.

RUNNING BACK (5): Carlos Hyde, Matt Breida, Joe Williams, Raheem Mostert, Kyle Juszczyk

Another spot that seemed to lack any tight battles has turned into a full-fledged dogfight for spots. Breida established himself soon after his arrival and followed through with a strong preseason. Hyde remains the starter and will get the biggest workload, with Breida working his way into the mix and Williams bringing some promise for the future. It's hard to imagine the 49ers would part ways with Williams considering how highly they valued him when they drafted him in the fourth round this year. The choice here could come down to veteran Tim Hightower and Mostert. Mostert gets the nod because of his special-teams value. Juszczyk has been Mr. Consistency at fullback.

WIDE RECEIVER (5): Pierre Garcon, Marquise Goodwin, Aldrick Robinson, Jeremy Kerley, Trent Taylor

The Niners have a variety of intriguing young players here, such as Kendrick Bourne and Victor Bolden Jr., but neither has done enough to nail down a spot. The practice squad is a logical landing for both of them. Aaron Burbridge could steal a sixth roster spot because of his special-teams acumen, but it's still unclear when he'll be recovered from a hamstring injury. He might not make the initial cut but could be brought back when he's at full speed.

TIGHT END (3): Logan Paulsen, George Kittle, Garrett Celek

This is a tough group to predict after Paulsen and Kittle, both of whom have seemed to carve out roles for themselves. Paulsen is the blocking specialist, while Kittle can do a bit of everything from the "move" tight end spot. In a perfect world, undrafted rookie Cole Hikutini would have earned a spot, but he never seemed to make a strong push and is probably ticketed for the practice squad. Don't count out Blake Bell here after he has played a lot of snaps on special teams, but we'll go with Celek for the third spot because of his versatility. It's also possible the 49ers could keep just two tight ends because of Juszczyk.

OFFENSIVE LINE (9): Joe Staley, Brandon Fusco, Trent Brown, Daniel Kilgore, Zane Beadles, Garry Gilliam, Erik Magnuson, Laken Tomlinson, Joshua Garnett

If everyone was healthy, the Niners would probably keep only eight here, but we're adding a little extra depth because of Garnett's knee injury. After trading for Tomlinson, there's a sense Garnett could be out longer than initially expected, so we're ticketing him for injured reserve with the chance to return later in the season. General manager John Lynch said the decision on Garnett could be made Saturday. But by league rule, if the Niners want to bring Garnett back, he must be on the initial 53-man roster and then be placed on injured reserve. After that, the Niners could designate Garnett and free up an additional roster spot for someone like tackle John Theus. Adding Tomlinson could allow Beadles to serve as an all-purpose backup. The hardest decision here is between Magnuson and veteran Tim Barnes as the backup center. Having an undrafted rookie in that role could be a bit of a risk, but Magnuson has performed well and Beadles could also play center in a pinch if needed.

DEFENSIVE LINE (9): Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner, Earl Mitchell, Solomon Thomas, Elvis Dumervil, Aaron Lynch, Tank Carradine, D.J. Jones, Quinton Dial

It's not out of the realm of possibility the Niners could keep 10 defensive linemen. A team also might will be willing to flip San Francisco a conditional pick for one of the guys the Niners might be considering cutting. The toughest choice here is for two spots from the trio of Jones, Dial and Chris Jones. Chris Jones is a favorite of defensive line coach Jeff Zgonina and has been the primary backup at three-technique. He's a high-effort guy, but versatility will be key and the guess here is that Dial's and D.J. Jones' ability to play both tackle spots give them the edge. Dial would also be a logical trade candidate for a 3-4 team in need. Pita Taumoepenu is also intriguing but can probably find a home on the practice squad.

LINEBACKER (6): NaVorro Bowman, Reuben Foster, Eli Harold, Brock Coyle, Ray-Ray Armstrong, Dekoda Watson

This is maybe the only position on the team that seems to have some certainty aside from the specialists. The 49ers have exactly what you want here, with three defined starters and three backups all capable of being strong contributors on special teams.

CORNERBACK (5): Rashard Robinson, Dontae Johnson, Keith Reaser, K'Waun Williams, Ahkello Witherspoon

Will Redmond was a third-round pick in 2016, but he's been battling injuries and hasn't made much of an impact when healthy. Rookie Adrian Colbert has some upside because of his versatility and potential as a special-teams player, but he could probably get to the practice squad and be a candidate for promotion later in the season or after injuries. Otherwise, the Niners could still seek to improve at this position, with Robinson and Johnson the likely starters on the outside and Williams serving as the primary nickel corner.

SAFETY (5): Eric Reid, Jimmie Ward, Jaquiski Tartt, Lorenzo Jerome, Vinnie Sunseri

Ward is still coming back from a hamstring injury, and though it seems he'll be ready for Week 1, he hasn't played all through camp. That ratchets up the need for depth here, with Tartt and Jerome both capable of playing Ward's free safety spot. Jerome impressed in camp, and while the Niners would like to see improvement from him on special teams, he could have a bright future. The tough call here is between Sunseri and Don Jones. Both play a lot of special teams and Jones is a gunner, one of the most important roles on special teams. But we'll give the edge to Sunseri because he has the added advantage of being able to help on defense if needed.

SPECIALISTS (3): K Robbie Gould, P Bradley Pinion, LS Kyle Nelson

There's not much question how this will go. These three are set even though kicker Nick Rose has impressed.