5 49ers on Defense Who Are on the Final Roster Hot Seat


Getty Kevin Atkins of the 49ers chases Kellen Mond of the Vikings on August 20, 2022.

Once the San Francisco 49ers hit the field for their final preseason game versus the Houston Texans on Thursday, August 25, it could mark the final game for some of the S.F. defenders.

In six days, the 49ers must join the rest of the NFL in figuring out who the final 53 representatives on their roster will be — which means cuts have to be made. For some, they may stick around the Bay Area, but as a practice squad candidate.

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Heavy on 49ers has already pinpointed five offensive players who need this final game to solidify their case to stick around. Who on defense needs a breakout night? Here are the five:

Kevin Atkins, Defensive Tackle

The 49ers are in a very unique situation with their defensive trenches.

While a strength of the defense, how many defensive linemen can they keep for the final depth chart? The undrafted Atkins is one who is in a tough spot in what’s a crowded DL room.

Why Atkins could stay: Maurice Hurst being out for awhile with torn biceps and Kalia Davis on the NFI (non-football illness) list creates voids in the interior for the 49ers. The Fresno State Bulldogs standout Atkins could be a depth option as a true defensive tackle.

Why he doesn’t make it: Atkins was limited to 10 snaps versus the Vikings according to Pro Football Focus. For UDFA’s, low snap counts are usually a negative sign regarding roster chances. Plus, even with injuries inside, the 49ers have other options in Hassan Ridgeway, Jordan Willis, Kevin Givens and can go long in the interior with towering defenders Charles Omenihu (6-foot-5) and Arik Armstead (6-foot-7).

Akeem Spence, Defensive Tackle

Spence was one of the new additions during training camp, with the 49ers becoming his ninth stop.

Could the 30-year-old face the possibility of needing to find a 10th?

Why Spence could stay: Familiarity with defensive line coach Kris Kocurek significantly helps. The two were together with the Detroit Lions. And Spence’s 6-foot-1, 307-pound frame makes him ideal for a D.J. Jones-type role. Spence also took more snaps than Atkins (25) at Minnesota.

Why he doesn’t make it: Again, this is a crowded DL room. Plus with Javon Kinlaw healthy and impressing and free agent find Hassan Ridgeway with the 49ers longer than Spence, it could mean practice squad for both Spence and Atkins.

Segun Olubi, Inside Linebacker

Olubi saw an uptick in snap counts versus Minnesota with 18 compared to the 11 against Green Bay.

But is there enough room in the linebacker room to keep him?

Why Olubi could stay: Olubi was known as a defender who could make plays in space with San Diego State. He also had the speed to cover wide receivers in the Mountain West, a conference known for speed. That makes him a Dre Greenlaw/Azeez Al-Shaair type.

Why he doesn’t make it: Marcelino McCrary-Ball has become a breakout UDFA in the same LB room Olubi is in. It’s going to likely come down to which one gets more snaps and production versus Houston that determines who will be most likely to stay on board.

Tayler Hawkins, Safety

Hawkins came to the 49ers adding to the SDSU Aztec representation with Olubi.

But can the hard-hitting safety do enough to stay on?

Why Hawkins could stay: His snaps increased versus the Vikings, with 40 defensive plays compared to the 14 in his preseason debut. Injury to Jimmie Ward and lack of safety depth could also be convincing. Also, he helped cap the road win in the Twin Cities with this:

Why he doesn’t make it: Veteran Tashaun Gipson was signed to offset Ward’s injury. Kyle Shanahan also told the Bay Area media that Gipson is likely “to get some game tape on him” versus Houston. It could come down to the veteran safety and the UDFA on who stays longer before Ward is healthy.

Dontae Johnson, Cornerback

Johnson has been lauded for his veteran play and availability when called upon.

But how much more can the 30-year-old stick around in a cornerback unit that’s gotten younger and already helped push one veteran to the side in Darqueze Dennard?

Why Johnson could stay: To reiterate, he’s been reliable when the 49ers needed to fill injuries. He also brings a special teams presence, another deciding factor on which reserves stay.

Why he doesn’t make it: He’s naturally a nickelback. The emergence of rookie Samuel Womack and second-year pro Deommodore Lenoir putting together a strong preseason has complicated things there for Johnson. Tariq Castro-Fields is another rookie who saw more action in the second August game. The 49ers have younger, intriguing pieces in the secondary…which could convince the 49ers to part ways with the veteran.

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