SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Not long after the 2017 NFL draft, I walked out of Levi's Stadium to find San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch standing outside in a celebratory moment with his staff.
I stopped and said hello to Lynch and expressed my surprise that he and his staff were already done working. After most drafts, personnel departments find themselves tied up for a few more hours as they try to lock down undrafted free agents. The Niners took approximately an hour, if that.
When I mentioned it to Lynch, he responded simply with, "Hey, man it's a land of opportunity here." In other words, the Niners have a roster going through some major changes and talented undrafted rookies would see San Francisco as a place where they could legitimately make the team.
Those words have already proved prescient in this training camp as the Niners have a handful of undrafted rookies who look capable of winning a spot on the 53-man roster. On Tuesday, we took a look at the early progress of the team's drafted rookies. Now, we'll take a look at some of the undrafted rookies who are making noise.
S Lorenzo Jerome: At this point, it would be a surprise if Jerome didn't make the team. He's spent a lot of time working with the starting defense at free safety after the Niners were hit by injuries there and he hasn't looked out of place. While defensive coordinator Robert Saleh has said Jerome still has some work to do when it comes to playing within the scheme, Jerome has made more positive plays than negative. He's also been involved on special teams and if he does well he projects to have a good chance to win a possible fourth safety spot.
RB Matt Breida: Breida opened eyes with his speed and physical running style as far back as the initial rookie minicamp in May. And he's done nothing since to look like he doesn't belong on an NFL roster. Breida has been a solid between-the-tackles runner and showed better than expected hands of late. He also could factor into the mix as a kick returner. With Carlos Hyde, Tim Hightower and Joe Williams also around, the Niners might be hesitant to keep a fourth running back but Breida has been good enough so far to ensure that they do.
TE Cole Hikutini: Competition at tight end remains one of the most intriguing battles in this camp, in part because it's so hard to read. Hikutini has had some good moments in camp, particularly after fellow rookie George Kittle had to sit because of injury. But Hikutini hasn't been very consistent and could use a big performance in a preseason game or two to bolster his position. Even barring that, the Niners only seem to have Kittle and Logan Paulsen locked in. This could go down to the wire with Hikutini battling Vance McDonald and possibly Garrett Celek for another spot or two.
OLs Darrell Williams Jr. and Erik Magnuson: Entering this camp, it looked like the 49ers had a pretty good idea of who the offensive linemen making the opening day roster would be. That has since changed with the release of center Jeremy Zuttah and the knee injury to guard Joshua Garnett. The door is now open on the offensive line for a young up-and-comer to earn a spot or two if they can perform well enough in the preseason. The early returns point to Williams and Magnuson as having the best shots to do that. An argument could be made that Williams is the team's third-best tackle though he hasn't had the opportunity to do it against better competition. Magnuson has offered some versatility on the interior, including taking some snaps at center, and the Niners could use someone to provide depth behind Daniel Kilgore.
WRs Kendrick Bourne and Victor Bolden Jr.: Although the 49ers aren't exactly teeming with top-end wideouts, they do have some intriguing depth that is making for some entertaining training camp competitions. At this stage, it seems Pierre Garcon, Marquise Goodwin, Jeremy Kerley, Aldrick Robinson and Trent Taylor are poised to lock down roster spots. If the Niners keep a sixth receiver, Aaron Burbridge would have the inside track based on special teams. But Bolden and Bourne are going to push until the very end because of what they can do as pass catchers. Bourne has consistently performed in practice and the first preseason game and it's fair to wonder where he'd be right now if he hadn't had to miss most of the offseason program because of NFL rules. Bolden has also produced in camp and offers some ability as a returner. It won't be easy, but if one of these two can prove a capable special teams player, there's a chance to carve out a spot on the roster.