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Expectations aren’t too high for these four 49ers, but they have the potential to be impact players this season.

Every year, teams that make the playoffs have players burst onto the scene. For Baltimore last year, it was rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson. Nobody knew that the athletic quarterback would have that much of an impact out of the gate. The Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears had a couple of unheralded players take a big leap as well. Eddie Jackson went from a rookie fourth-round pick to an All-Pro safety in a year.

If the San Francisco 49ers are going to take the next step, a player with a lesser role is going to have to step up and surprise. It has to be a player that the coaching staff isn’t counting on as of today. The three players below have their flaws, but they also have the type of upside to surprise.

D.J. Reed Jr.-DB

ReedJr. is the real wildcard to me in the secondary. He can play both safety and in the slot. He bounced back and forth between the two positions last year due to injuries in the secondary. That versatility could go a long way in Reed Jr. staying on the field. Everyone knows the 49ers struggled to take the ball away a year ago. Rolling out the same secondary and expecting different results—despite the much-improved pass-rush—is probably not the answer. Reed Jr. doesn’t have to be a star; he needs to take advantage of his opportunities.

Reed Jr. always had a knack for finding the football in college. If he can give the 49ers consistency and a few takeaways, that would prove to be a big difference for the defense in 2019.

Kaden Smith-TE

The 49ers will already be relying heavily on one pass-catching rookie this season. Smith has a chance to carve out an instrumental role in the offense, especially down in the red zone. The 6-foot-5 tight end was never known for his ability to separate at Stanford. He was known for his fantastic receiving skills. For a team that was comfortably the worst red zone offense in the league, Smith could be a significant addition.

Smith doesn’t have to catch ten touchdowns to validate the 49ers selecting him. Any production Smith has as a rookie is a bonus. Turning a few possessions into a score because Smith was able to convert, whether that’s in the end zone or he made a tough catch down the middle, would be a successful season for Smith.

Tarvarius Moore-FREE SAFETY

Feels good to type those words after Moore’s name. As you know, Moore recently moved to free safety. Whether that’s temporary or not remains the question. The team still believes in Jimmie Ward. Moore has only practiced a few times at free safety, and that’s been with the reserves. With OTAs this week, and mandatory minicamp in a week, that should give us a clearer picture of what we can expect from Moore this season.

The team hasn’t had consistent production at safety in quite awhile. Unlike the players that have been logging heavy snaps at safety, Moore’s health has never been a concern. His athleticism speaks for itself. Moore showed better instincts than given credit for in college as well. If given a fair chance, Moore would be the best option at free safety, no matter who is healthy or available on the market. The move to free safety is both a short-term and long-term move for the 49ers.

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It’s time to start scouting the 49ers opponents for 2019. Today it’s the Cleveland Browns.

I remember a few years back when Johnny Manziel was taken first overall. There were reports later that Kyle Shanahan, who was the offensive coordinator at the time, had Derek Carr ranked first, Jimmy Garoppolo second, and then everyone else.

Then Manziel sent a text to then-Browns quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains that he wanted to “wreck the league” in Cleveland. Then-head coach Mike Pettine got wind of it and that was what made the Browns pull the trigger. You know how that story ended.

Wow...we’ve come a long way since the Browns were drafting quarterbacks like that in the first round. Somewhere in there I’d like to remind everyone that Manziel managed to beat the Jim Tomsula-led 49ers and still find his way out of the league.

Long after that mess, we have Freddie Kitchens in his first head coaching gig. Kitchens began as the offensive coordinator for a handful of games after the Browns had enough of Hue Jackson. While the signing seems a bit premature given Kitchens’ experience as an offensive coordinator, he’s shown quite a bit of promise with the young rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield.

They were active in free agency signing over 10 players if you count extensions given out to their roster. But nothing was more high-profile than the trade acquisition of Odell Beckham Jr. The Browns gave up safety Jabrill Peppers, a first round pick, and their second third round pick.

After Kitchens, free agency, and that OBJ trade, the Browns appear to no longer be lovable losers. At least on paper.

Draft picks

Round 2: Greedy Williams (CB)
Round 3: Sione Takitaki (OLB)
Round 4: Sheldrick Redwine (S)
Round 5: Mack Wilson (ILB)
Round 5: Austin Seibert (K)
Round 6: Drew Forbes (OT)
Round 7: Donnie Lewis Jr. (CB)

Notable free agent acquisitions

Kareem Hunt (RB)
Eric Kush (G)
Sheldon Richardson (DT)
Demetrius Harris (TE)

Notable trades

Odell Beckham Jr. — The Browns gave up a first round (17th overall), a third round (95th overall), and safety Jabrill Peppers to the New York Giants in exchange for wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

Olivier Vernon — The Browns traded guard Kevin Zeitler, for defensive end Olivier Vernon.

The Browns have been busy busy busy. That’s just a handful of free agent signings. They signed running back Kareem Hunt. The signing comes after Hunt was released from the Kansas City Chiefs three months prior when video of his [Hunt’s] domestic violence incident surfaced.

Behind that, Harris should be a decent tight end. Sheldon Richardson is a good signing as well that should help what is becoming one of the better defensive lines in football.

They didn’t have a first round pick thanks to that OBJ trade, but I doubt Browns fans care. The San Francisco 49ers were in the mix for OBJ, but that No. 2 pick was just too expensive to pry from John Lynch’s hands—which was a good move. Their first pick was Greedy Williams. Once seen as an early first round talent, Williams dropped in projections as the pre-draft process wore on. With a season of on-field development he could be a star in this league. I was a fan of Takitaki, and thought the 49ers may look into him but had no idea he would go as early as he did. I thought he’d go in the fifth round at the earliest. Shows what I know. Sheldrick Redwine is another personal favorite as is Mack Wilson who I think the Browns got as a steal.

Just one problem with all of this. Williams is talking Super Bowl already. D’oh!

The matchup

If there’s one game I’m personally interested in, it’s the 49ers vs. the Browns. The Browns talent on paper compliments everything the 49ers want to do on both offense and defense. It’s also a Monday Night Football game which will make it more fun.

And I think “fun” is the right word when describing how this game will go. This will just be a fun game. Right now if I’m looking at both rosters, the Browns are the better team—again on paper. I think the 49ers can prove some things in the first three games to show they are ready for prime time and the Browns could be the exclamation point to show they have improved and all that talk about their roster in 2018 wasn’t just talk.

The Browns will need to prove that they aren’t lovable losers anymore. They will have a hard road to come in here at 4-0. Their first two games are the Tennessee Titans and the New York Jets, both winnable. But then they have the Los Angeles Rams and the Baltimore Ravens. The Rams are the Rams at this point, and the Ravens will either have an amazing season or be reeling with the league already figuring out this read-option thing.

Nick Chubb and Odell Beckham Jr. will need to get going early. That’s a one-two punch that if the 49ers can’t match up to (or for the love of God, not bust coverage on) they will get behind fairly quickly. On the other end, the 49ers can easily play keep-away and just run the ball to keep that duo off the field. Mix a few Mitch Wishnowsky punts (DRINK!) in to keep the Browns playbook limited and maybe they can get by with a field goal.

The Browns also could fire on all cylinders and just score, score, score, and have that defense of theirs make the 49ers hate their lives that night. It’s very possible.

Of course, with that same offense the Browns have behind Baker Mayfield, this very well could turn into a shootout with Odell Beckham Jr. making Levi’s Stadium his backyard. The 49ers have the firepower to match up to the Browns, but I don’t think they can get this one done. I’m going to go with a Browns win late after a few touchdowns in the fourth quarter to seal this and neither team looks bad in the whole scheme of things.

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Welker seems like the perfect guy for the job

The San Francisco 49ers return to the practice field this week. They practiced on Monday and will be available again today. The 49ers media team has been releasing sights and sounds from each practice. The most recent video may have been the most entertaining yet. It’s new wide receivers coach Wes Welker and him working with all the receivers. The video lasts just under a minute and a half, but you can already see the relationships that are forming.

Welker told Kendrick Bourne, “KB, I don’t know whether to commend you for all the swag you’ve got going or to fine your a**. I suppose that depends on how you practice.” It didn’t stop there. Welker also said, “Great work KB....you can dress like an idiot every day.”

You can watch the entire video here.

At the end of practice, Welker can be seen running wind sprints with Deebo Samuel. Throughout the practice, Welker seemed engaged and enthusiastic. Not all former players turn out to be great coaches. This will be Welker’s third year, and first as an actual position coach. If there’s a player that can teach players how to release off the line, get open at the top of their routes, and maximize the yards after the catch they get, it’s Welker. For what the 49ers need, Welker is a perfect fit. By that video, he’s already showing the receivers what it takes to be a pro.

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How much will travel impact the 49ers results?

It’s not much of a surprise, given the fact that the San Francisco 49ers are a west coast team, but the team will be one of the most traveled teams in 2019. Per CBS, the 49ers rank fifth in the NFL in scheduled travel miles for 2019. The 49ers are going to travel over 25,512 miles for their eight road games.

The 49ers are going to travel five times over 2,000 miles. That starts Week 1 when the team heads to Tampa Bay. The team is traveling to Cincinnati the following week, but one would think the 49ers would stay on the east coast instead of choosing to go back to California, to fly back out a few days later. The next east coast trip isn’t until Week 7 when they head to Washington. During October the Niners will be on the road three times.

The three-game homestand will be vital to the 49ers success during Weeks 10-12. If the team can go 3-0 against Seattle, Arizona, and Green Bay, they should be sitting pretty. Following that will be two long road trips back-to-back against the Ravens and the Saints. Like the first week of the season, it would make more sense for the team to stay out east.

The 49ers haven’t won a game in the Eastern Time since 2014. They have four games this year, with three kicking off at 10 a.m. Pacific Time. Two of those games come against rookie quarterbacks, though. New Orleans is Central Time, but that would be a 10 a.m. kickoff as well.

No surprise here, but the top five features all West Coast teams. The Raiders travel the most, followed by the Rams, Chargers, and Seahawks.

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A collection of San Francisco 49ers related links for Tuesday, June 4th, 2019

One of the more underrated moves by the 49ers this offseason is the addition of Wes Welker as the receivers coach. The undrafted 12-year veteran receiver was known for his physical brand of play, fearlessly amassing over 16,000 all-purpose yards, earning a trip to 5 Pro Bowls and being selected to 4 1st/2nd team All-Pros along the way. There really is no doubting the experience he brings to the table as a former receiver, but time will tell how well that translates to coaching. Here’s what Kyle Shanahan said at the combine after the hire (courtesy of insidethe49.com)

Well, I always try to get someone in who has played the position, which is sometimes tough to do. But, if you can find someone who did it and you feel they’re prepared from a coaching standpoint, it’s kind of the best of both worlds. Wes, I’ve known just hanging out with him, meeting him over the years. I’ve never worked with him or anything, but he was one of my favorite players of all time just watching him from afar and what he did. I used to play against him in college when he was at [Texas] Tech and just watching how he made it and the way he made it. That’s a guy who not only was really talented, but made it because of what was upstairs, also, and how he developed. Knowing he’s put in the work and put two hard years in at Houston, going the quality control route, and just talking to him and interviewing him you can tell he was serious about becoming a coach and was ready to put in the work, put in the hours. He’s a talented guy and a good person. I feel fortunate to have him on the staff.

Shanahan has made it a point to add physicality to our offense this offseason and the hope has got to be that Welker is able to instill that tough guy mindset into a young receiving corps.

Now on to the links..

Wes Welker keeps it at OTAs.

Catch coach @WesWelker in action as he works with the #49ers young corps of receivers in this Mic’d Up presented by @Cisco pic.twitter.com/qQhJ4dWYRC

— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) June 3, 2019

Wes Welker motivates rookie receiver Deebo Samuel during 49ers OTAs (Jessica Kleinschmidt, NBC Sports)

Kwon Alexander already having impact on 49ers LBs (Kyle Madson, NinersWire)

Missing OTAs could have affect Nick Bosa’s rookie year (Kyle Madson, NinersWire)

Despite Latest Injury, Ward Still in 49ers’ Plans for 2019 (Doug Williams, NBC Bay Area)

49ers’ inability to address free safety already seems hard to justify (Al Sacco, KNBR)

Kyle Shanahan explains why 49ers have used high-end draft picks on pass rush over DBs (Joseph Nocco, ClutchPoints)

49ers’ wide-9 alingment has trickle-down effect on defense (Peter Panacy, Niner Noise)

San Francisco 49ers rank fifth in 2019 travel miles (Kirk Larrabee, 247Sports)

Around the NFL...

Source: The #Panthers are signing Gerald McCoy. He sticks down South and can play against his former team.

— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) June 3, 2019

Roger Goodell definitely seems to be in favor of trimming down the NFL preseason (John Breech, CBS Sports)

Progress reports for all 32 NFL first-round picks (ESPN.com)

Big Ten will reportedly reach into the NFL executive ranks for its next commissioner (Ben Kercheval, CBS Sports)

Darius Slay ‘ain’t going’ to Lions’ mandatory minicamp (Jeremy Bergman, Around the NFL)

Picking winners of key camp battles around the NFL (Mark Chichester, Pro Football Focus)

Rams RB Todd Gurley won’t be ‘bell cow’ going forward (Jeremy Bergman, Around the NFL)

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100 pictures from Saturday’s event!

This past Saturday we had a ton of fun at Levi Stadium. Plenty of San Francisco 49ers were on hand. Alex Tran already went over in-depth who was there and all the events that took place. It’s really cool for them to take time out of their busy schedule and give back to the community.

Hope you enjoy the photos!

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Breaking down the 90 players on the 49ers offseason roster in 90 posts (over 90 or so days). Today is cornerback Greg Mabin.

A few days back, we talked about Dontae Johnson and his once hopeful talents leading to an eventual benching while getting torched against the Houston Texans. The guy to come in for him? Greg Mabin. Before 2017, Mabin bounced around the league and earned his call-up in 2017, from the 49ers practice squad.

What Mabin showed was solid development. As the 49ers injury plague claimed its victims, Mabin was seen as an up-and-comer. A possible answer to the future at the position.

Then the 49ers played the Green Bay Packers and Mabin was inserted for an injured Jimmie Ward. The less said about Mabin in that game, the better. After going up against the best in the league in Aaron Rodgers, it was clear Mabin has a long ways to go to be a consistent starter, if that’s even a possibility.

Basic Info:

Age: 24
Experience: Two accrued seasons
Height: 6’1
Weight 200 lbs

Cap Status:

Signed a one year extension with a cap hit of $645,000.

Why he might improve:

Mabin was given some great opportunities to improve upon his underwhelming performance in 2017. Things built up for until a Monday Night Football matchup against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. This was where Mabin was effectively torched and many wrote the incoming Greg Mabin era at cornerback off. Mabin’s greatest issue is consistency. Sometimes he’s on, sometimes he’s off. The big thing is Mabin always needs some inside help to be effective. When he’s asked to put defending on his shoulders alone is when things get messy.

If Mabin can get better consistency and get some independence in his areas of the field he’s a capable backup.

Why he might regress:

Mabin’s lack of athleticism was also an issue for making plays. He’s not anything to write home about on special teams either and with the 49ers having just drafted Tim Harris, he’s on the losing end in terms of youth and development. Mabin might be what he is right now, a capable backup cornerback that is unable to make plays for the defense when asked to.

Odds of making the roster:

The 49ers brought Mabin back, but it's on a one-year deal without anything huge in terms of money. They could cut bait tomorrow and not feel it in the books. That said, with the movement of Tarvarius Moore to safety, the 49ers might be looking to have someone behind Richard Sherman and Jason Verrett. The latter isn’t known for durability so some depth would be nice. They also have Dontae Johnson competing for a roster spot. The same Dontae Johnson Mabin replaced in 2017 when Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins went on a tear. Mabin is on a strong bubble to make it as an insurance policy for the injuries the cornerback unit are most likely going to suffer in 2019 at some point. Just don’t expect greatness.

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If the Niners are going to make a playoff push, they’ll have to have a winning record against the rest of the division

It’s ‘Revenge Week’ for the SB Nation flagship, where both our NFL site and the team sites will be looking at revenge games for the 2019 schedule as well as some of the best revenge games in history. The flagship went over a Deion Sanders and Joe Montana revenge game this morning.

The San Francisco 49ers need to get revenge on the division in 2019. If the team is going to be taken seriously, or make a playoff push, they have to do better against the NFC West this upcoming season. The Niners finished 2-4 last year. Of the 12 teams that made the playoffs in 2018, the Baltimore Ravens had the worst divisional record at 3-3. Health has a lot to do with it for the 49ers. No matter who is under center in this year, you can’t get swept by the Arizona Cardinals. Those are the games you must win. Ideally, you sweep the Cardinals, then split with the other two teams. 4-2 is where you want to be.

Against the Los Angeles Rams and the Seattle Seahawks, the challenge for the defense will be limiting the chunk plays and turnovers. That killed them a year ago. Turnovers always seem to happen at an inopportune time. Big plays are how Seattle won the first matchup. Their first scoring driving included a 45-yard pass that was a coverage bust and a 15-yard run. Then on third and goal, Russell Wilson had over five seconds to throw the ball. Touchdown. The Seahawks next scoring drive found Tyler Lockett on Malcolm Smith. You’ll never guess what happened. After that 52-yard touchdown, Jeff Wilson fumbles it back to Seattle. Before the first half ended, Richie James muffed a punt, and the Seahawks make it 20-0.

A modest goal for the division would be 3-3. The 49ers need to keep the divisional games close, and hope their offensive execution leads them to victory at the end of games. That’s assuming things change with Jimmy Garoppolo under center. Things are sure to be different in 2019, but it all starts with winning the divisional games, especially the ones you’re supposed to win.

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The George Kittle show puts all 49ers tight ends at third. This is a good thing.

The San Francisco 49ers have made all sorts of improvements to some rather sub-par units this offseason. One unit that didn’t so much need improvement as it needed depth was the tight end group. Now with draft pick Kaden Smith and a (hopefully) healed and rejuvenated Garrett Celek, the 49ers now have a respectable tight end room. In 2018 it was Kittle, Celek, and then whoever was activated off of the practice squad.

SB Nation’s Christian D’Andrea put together a ranking of each of the NFL’s tight end groups. Note this is the group, not just the player. We’ve seen all sorts of articles where Kittle was fighting with Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce for the No. 1 spot with some Philadelphia Eagles Zach Ertz thrown in for good measure. This is how the entire room ranks among the rest of the NFL.

The 49ers were ranked third, behind the Philadelphia Eagles and the Indianapolis Colts who were second and first respectively. Here’s what D’Andrea said in the ranking:

Primary tight ends: George Kittle, Garrett Celek, Kaden Smith

Kittle was great at pretty much anything he was asked to do for the Niners, excelling despite catching passes from three different starters in his second season as a pro. His 1,377 receiving yards in 2018 were the most ever by a tight end, and he also cleared a path for one of the league’s most dynamic rushing attacks by sealing off the edge effectively as a blocker. Smith and Celek don’t offer as much behind him, but the former Iowa Hawkeye was destructive enough last fall to push San Francisco into the top five on his own.

Ahh, the George Kittle show. Remember, we’re not talking about the best tight ends, but the group. Plural. Behind Kittle there’s Celek who had a severe regression last year and Smith who is unproven. Before Smith, the depth was a rotating door of bodies, none of which could stick with the team.

The 49ers do need something to take the edge off Kittle, which is why Smith is so intriguing. With a full offseason, linebackers are going to clamp down on Kittle’s routes and having Smith ready to keep them honest will allow Kittle continue dominating on the field. Let’s also not forget having a second capable blocker is just as important as a pass catcher, and it will be interesting to see Smith’s blocking ability in the NFL.

The 49ers are now starting to have several top-tier units develop. Remember when this was one of the worst rosters in the league?

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One former first-round pick, and one undrafted free agent

Pro Football Focus has been grading NFL games since 2006. They recently put together the best single-game performances in their database. Since then, there are a few San Francisco 49ers games that come to mind. I thought for sure one of Frank Gore’s games would be on the list, but you won’t find him on this list. Aldon Smith had a five-sack performance against the Chicago Bears in 2012. That didn’t crack the list, either.

Here’s who did:

35. TRAMAINE BROCK, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

96.9 OVERALL GRADE, WEEK 5 OF THE 2013 SEASON

Targeted four times in this game against the Texans, Brock allowed just two catches for 32 yards and came down with two interceptions in an all-around excellent performance in coverage.

Does that game ring a bell?

On the third play of the game, Brock intercepted Matt Schaub. Brock did a great job disguising his coverage. Check it out:

That wasn’t the last time the ball found Brock this game.

In the second quarter, Brock took advantage of Schaub being late.

What a game for Brock. He was superb all of 2013.

The other Niner performance on the list was Vernon Davis in the 2011 Divisional round playoffs.

7. VERNON DAVIS, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

97.9 OVERALL GRADE, DIVISIONAL ROUND OF THE 2011 SEASON

The Alex Smith to Vernon Davis connection was in full flow in this divisional round game against the Saints. Davis caught seven of his eight targets on the day for 180 yards, two touchdowns, five first downs and 77 yards after the catch. His 95.7 single-game receiving grade from this game still stands as the third-best single-game mark of the PFF era for a tight end.

Davis cracks the top-10 in one of the most exciting playoff games of the past decade. The New Orleans Saints had three wide receivers go over 100 yards receiving on the day. It was the Davis show for the 49ers offense that day. Like PFF mentioned above, each time Davis touched the ball, it resulted in something positive for the Niners.

If you were wondering which other players made the list that played the 49ers, here they are:

No. 89 Dallas Cowboys OG Zack Martin-95.7 grade, Week 7, 2017

No. 60 Dallas Cowboys OG Zack Martin-96.2 grade, Week 4, 2016

No. 47 Seattle Seahawks Bobby Wagner-96.5 grade, Week 13, 2018

No. 33 Pittsburgh Steelers Ben Roethlisberger-96.9 grade, Week 2, 2015

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