The spotlight in the 49ers training camp will shine heavily on the quarterback position. It’s been trained there since the minute news of Brock Purdy’s torn UCL came down, and it isn’t liable to leave once the actual football starts.
While the QBs will grab all the headlines, there are a slew of other players flying under the radar this offseason worth keeping track of when the 49ers hit the field for training camp in late July.
Here’s who to watch for:
DE Robert Beal Jr.
There is a huge question mark at defensive end for the 49ers. Everything after Nick Bosa is up in the air. Second-year DE Drake Jackson is the frontrunner for the second starting job. Veterans Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant will be in the mix as well. Beal can’t get lost in the shuffle though.
The 2023 fifth-round pick from Georgia only started 10 of his 59 games across six years with a loaded Bulldogs defense. While his production wasn’t great (10.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss) he has all the tools to be an effective NFL player. He’s 6-3, 247 pounds with a wingspan eclipsing 82 inches and the speed to rip off a 4.44 40-yard dash. There’s a chance Beal becomes one of the team’s most productive edge rushers once he gets under the guidance of the 49ers’ coaching staff.
The 49ers took Davis in the sixth round of the 2022 draft knowing he would likely not play his rookie year because of a torn ACL during his final college season. Now they’re hopeful that the linebacker-turned-defensive tackle can develop into a playmaker for them along the interior. His quickness jumps off the screen and his athleticism pursuit makes him look more like a linebacker than a defensive tackle. With some holes on the DT depth chart, there’s a chance for Davis to shine as a key piece of San Francisco’s DL rotation.
Don’t sleep on any undrafted rookie running back with the 49ers. Laborn had a tumultuous college career. He redshirted in 2017, got hurt early in 2018, was minimally productive in 2019, and then got dismissed from the team in 2020 for a violation of team rules. He transferred to Marshall for his final year of college eligibility and took off. He posted 1,513 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns on 302 carries for the Herd. He also caught 16 balls for 116 yards. Laborn is a decisive runner with good balance and shiftiness in the open field. Don’t be surprised if he’s a star in camp and the preseason.
Hartsfield is a really interesting player. He spent last season under 49ers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, who was a defensive backs coach and interim head coach with the Panthers. During his time in Carolina, Hartsfield did virtually everything on defense from playing free safety, to slot corner, to strong safety, to linebacker. A versatile safety is a really nice chess piece for a defensive coordinator to have, but San Francisco drafted Ji’Ayir Brown to hopefully be that player. There’s a logjam at safety, but Hartsfield could force his way onto the roster and become a key piece of the 49ers’ secondary with a strong showing in camp.
Willis was one of three seventh-round picks for the 49ers, and he might be their most interesting of their nine total selections. He’s a good blocker, especially on the move, with enough functional athleticism to be effective after the catch as a receiver. There may be more immediate impact from third-round pick Cameron Latu, but Willis’ ceiling makes him really interesting in his first NFL training camp. The team will need to see how he holds up particularly as an in-line blocker. It’s the pass catching that will be most interesting to watch though, and his ability to affect the game there could make him a contributor on offense for the 49ers right away.
LB Marcelino McCrary-Ball
In the battle for the starting Sam linebacker spot there are a couple of veterans and a couple of rookie draft picks. McCrary-Ball is a second-year undrafted free agent who spent all of last year on the 49ers’ practice squad. He may not have the size the team wants from a Sam LB who will be on the field mostly to defend the run, but he’s a super intriguing athlete whose familiarity with the 49ers defense could give him an inside track to a special teams job and potentially long-term development as a replacement for Dre Greenlaw if the 49ers get priced out of Greenlaw’s services when he becomes a free agent after the 2024 season.
Story originally appeared on Niners Wire