The exhibition season and training camp ended with the 49ers’ 53-man roster being set, minus a few tweaks to polish up depth within a few position groups. During training camp, NINERS LIVE brought you 10 players who had the best opportunity for an extended opportunity to remain with the team after the cut down by being signed to the Practice Squad. Now we will breakdown the players who have been signed to the Practice Squad.
DeAndre Carter, WR, 2nd Year
Son of ex-NFL wide out Chris Carter, DeAndre has been fighting for two years to make an NFL roster. This year his biggest issue came from the redundancy of short wide outs looking to make the roster, five of six receivers on the roster are under 6’0. During camp, Carter showed well enough that the team is looking to monitor his development through the season.
Cole Hikutini, TE, Rookie
Hikutini was signed as an undrafted free agent after the draft, and was handpicked by the team because he has a skill set that works well within this scheme. Vance McDonald was traded to the Pittsburg Steelers earlier this week, and even with the trade, Hikutini had a long road to make this roster. Being on the practice squad will give him the opportunity to continue his development and possibly earn a promotion later in the season. The presence of Kyle Juszczyk made it more difficult for Hikutini to make the active roster. With Juszczyk on the roster, his ability to play tight end allowed the team to keep only three active tight ends. While this helps create flexibility with the roster, it meant that the best place for Hikutini was to be stashed on the Practice Squad to continue to develop until his play makes either Logan Paulsen or Garett Celek expendable. Or, when an injury to one of the active tight ends makes a roster spot available.
J.P. Flynn, OL, Rookie
Showing well through training camp is why the team will want to keep Flynn around. His technique will benefit the most from a “Redshirt” year on the practice squad. This will allow him to get the nuances of the footwork and angles this offense requires. With the overall talent and grasp of the offensive concepts Flynn has shown, he should not be far from being the ‘Next man up,” should an injury occur.
Jeremy McNichols, RB, Rookie
McNichols was signed after being released from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during their roster cut down to 53. During his time with the Bucs, McNichols appeared to be having trouble picking up the playbook and executing his assignments. HBO’s Hard Knocks followed training camp with Tampa Bay this season, and McNichols was featured as a rookie who was struggling throughout camp. In one episode, his former pop warner coach, Snoop Dog, was giving him advice on how to study, particularly in pass protection and on special teams, the two main areas he will have to have down pat to ever make an appearance on the 46-Man game-day roster. Another episode showed quarterback Jameis Winston and wide receiver DeSean Jackson tutoring him on his pass blocking assignments. A dynamic and explosive player while at Boise State, he can be once again electric in Shanahan’s offense once he develops an understanding of what he will be asked to do in both the run and pass games.
DeAndre Smelter, WR, 2nd Year
Smelter was added during the 2016 draft in the fourth round as part of former General Manager Trent Baalke’s “All-ACL” team. Coming from Georgia Tech and a Triple Option offense, Smelter was behind when it comes to the nuances of the wide receiver position such as running the complete route tree and executing proper footwork to separate from defenders while breaking when running his routes. Smelter’s big body, 6’2” 226 pounds, is an asset this offense is missing since none of the wide outs on the active roster are taller than 6’0” or weigh more than 190 pounds. Smelter’s addition to the practice squad also allows the defense to practice against a larger bodied pass catcher like the opposition they will face during the season. While on the Practice Squad he will have the opportunity to continue his development, but just as importantly, continue to strengthen his knee and work his way back to full strength, as most players can play a year removed from an ACL tear, but it is in the second year that the injury is finally completely healed.
Nick Mullens, QB, Rookie
Signed as a camp arm, Mullens used his time in camp to show Shanahan that he could pick up the offense and that, with time, he can become an asset to this team as a back up to the franchise quarterback once the team settles on one. Playing only one half in the fourth pre-season game, Mullens showed well, but also showed he still needs time to grow and polish his game.
Darrell Williams Jr, OL, Rookie
Coming from Western Michigan, Williams has shown an ability to pass block, and played well in the run game. Needing to show more of a push in the run game, this redshirt season will go a long way toward correcting the slight issues that have shown up in Williams’ game. With the team keeping two active tackles, in addition to the two starters, Williams can zero in and work on improving his game while not spending much of his “extra” time game planning for an upcoming opponent.
Asa Jackson, CB, 5th Year
Two interceptions in the final pre-season game weren’t enough to get him on the active roster, but it was enough to earn Jackson a longer look with the team. With an ability to play both outside corner and in the nickel slot, his development will be closely watched, as cornerback is still not a true strength of the team.
Jackson is a five-year vet in the NFL, but he is eligible for the practice squad due to his Accrued Years calculation. Only one of his five seasons has him being active for six or more games in that year. In 2014, Jackson played seven games for the Baltimore Ravens. In his other four years, the most he was active for was four games.
Nobel Nwachukwu, DL, Rookie
Nwachukwu came into camp with long odds of making the active roster. Still, he showed he is a hard worker and worth keeping around to develop into a depth player, playing the “Big End,” also called the “5-Technique”. As with most players on this list, Nwachukwu is not far away from seeing a promotion as an injury or two could have coaches calling his number.
Ben Boulware, LB, Rookie
Boulware was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Carolina Panthers after the draft this year. Boulware went through training camp and played in only one of the pre-season games for the Panthers, registering one tackle.
A standout linebacker for the 2016 National Champion Clemson Tigers, Boulware looks to show the skills that made him the Defensive MVP of both the National Championship game and his team. The linebackers have seen their share of injuries leading up to this season, so quickly getting up to speed in the playbook will be important.
Check back throughout the season as we update this list with any signings, releases, or promotions to the 53-man roster.
Please join us again soon on Niners Live, the home of the faithful fan and analyst from an objective/analytical lens, of course.
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All records, statistics, and accolades are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com, Pro Football Focus, 49ers.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com unless otherwise indicated. Author, Edward Erving Staff Writer @NinersLive.net and Content Creator, Editor, Sequoia Sims