5 Players Who The 49ers Should Give More Playing Time
The 49ers are a team going nowhere in 2016 and need to see what they have in certain players, here are five who deserve more of a shot.
The 2016 season is over for the San Francisco 49ers. Yes they still have half the campaign to play, but – at 1-7 – they are finished and thoughts should have already turned thoughts to the offseason and the draft.
This is a talent poor-roster with only a few players who look like potential building blocks and, as well as examining how to add to the team in the offseason, the 49ers general manager – whether that be Trent Baalke or a newcomer – will need to spend a long time considering which players are worth keeping around.
But there are a number of young players on the roster who have not been given a real chance to prove themselves so far in their time with the 49ers.
Here we look at five players who deserve to be given more of a shot in the final eight games.
What has become apparent in the last two weeks is that the 49ers do not have enough depth at running back to provide insurance for Carlos Hyde, whose trouble recovering from a sprained AC joint in his shoulder is just another indicator of his apparent lack of durability.
The 49ers have received a spark from DuJuan Harris in Hyde’s absence. Harris averaged 5.9 yards per carry against the New Orleans Saints last Sunday, while making five catches for 83 yards and a touchdown.
But Shaun Draughn, while a decent receiver out of the backfield, did not play an offensive snap and Mike Davis’ fumble on the goal line was yet another example of his inability to take advantage of opportunities that come his way.
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It is impossible to put any guarantee on when Hyde will be back and, with Draughn seemingly out of the picture, the 49ers would be best served cutting him and promoting rookie Kelvin Taylor from the practice squad.
Taylor, with his vision and ability to find the cutback lanes, is an excellent fit for the zone-blocking scheme favored by head coach Chip Kelly and boasts the quick feet to be able to work his way through even the smallest holes.
A tough runner who throughout his time at Florida demonstrated an admirable unwillingness to go down, Taylor’s skill set was on show during the preseason. He averaged 5.1 yards per carry on 21 attempts in his two exhibition appearances but was overlooked when the roster was whittled down to 53.
When Hyde returns the 49ers need to do all they can to protect him in a lost season, and a great way to do that would be to take a longer look at Taylor by giving him some of the work as a No. 3 back.
Burbridge’s case for extra snaps will not have been helped by his special teams gaffe against the Buccaneers in Week 7, the rookie sixth-rounder colliding with Jeremy Kerley on a punt return, leading to a fumble that handed the ball back to Tampa Bay after a third-down stop.
However, beyond a hobbled Torrey Smith all the 49ers have at receiver are mediocre players in Kerley, Quinton Patton and Rod Streater who are all free agents in 2017.
Kerley did start the season strongly but none of that trio have shown anything to suggest they should be with the team long-term and at this point it makes more sense for the 49ers to look to develop Burbridge with valuable playing time.
Prior to the draft Burbridge was seen as a strong route-runner with the body control to make circus catches who excelled on intermediate routes and crossing patterns.
A receiver with a knack for making the most out of short-to-medium throws could give Colin Kaepernick more simple completions and potentially help open things up deep.
But to this point Burbridge has had little opportunity to prove himself, the 49ers need to change that over the next nine games.
Tight end continues be a problem position for the 49ers.
Of course there are few positions that aren’t a problem for the Niners these days, but the flashes Vance McDonald and Garrett Celek showed last season suggested tight end could be an area of strength.
McDonald scored two touchdowns in as many games to start 2016 and had a big showing against the Saints but the consistency has not been there.
Meanwhile, Celek’s promise has not carried into 2016 following a four-year extension in the offseason. Aside from a four-catch 76-yard performance last week and his five catches for 79 yards versus the Dallas Cowboys, the returns have been paltry from Celek.
With McDonald and Celek up and down, it is especially surprising that Blake Bell has not become more of a factor. The second-year player caught 15 of his 25 targets last year and averaged 12.4 yards per reception.
Despite those numbers Bell has barely been targeted this season and the 49ers could certainly benefit from looking to get him more involved.
He is arguably the most athletic of San Francisco’s tight ends and, as an ex-quarterback, could even be used in wildcat formations. Bell is likely an upgrade on Celek and showed glimpses of potential in 2015, it’s time to let him stake a claim for a more prominent role.
San Francisco has little presence off the edge with Aaron Lynch enduring another year in which he has not been able to stay on the field. Eli Harold remains a non-factor and Tank Carradine’s transition to outside linebacker has yielded no results.
And yet Ronald Blair, who impressed in preseason with his ability to push the pocket and create pressure despite being somewhat undersized for a defensive lineman, has not been afforded much playing time – taking just 23 defensive snaps versus New Orleans even with Armstead’s early exit.
Blair is a quick defender who boasts a strong bull rush and the versatility to play off the edge as a stand-up pass rusher.
That versatility is not something the 49ers have harnessed to this point, now is an ideal time to start doing so.
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