Fred Warner:

The rookie linebacker certainly has a promising future ahead of him in red & gold, not only is he extremely physically talented, but he also appears to be one of the smartest linebackers in the entire draft.

With Reuben Foster dealing with a two-game suspension and veteran Malcolm Smith already on the PUP list, Warner’s skillset and mentality will be put to the test instantly. The guy essentially flies around the field knocking guys out of their cleats like a big, mad safety. He looks to be the next hybrid defender in an evolving league. In his introductory press conference, he stated how he felt Kyle Shanahan and Robert Saleh really appreciated how versatile he was during his time at BYU.

It’ll be intriguing to see how Warner handles himself without the star-sophomore Reuben Foster on the field with him to start the season. However, I’m more intrigued to see how Warner does with Foster next to him. If he pans out successfully, the 49ers are looking at yet another gruesome twosome in the middle of their defense for the foreseeable future. I’d look for Warner to wow coaches on the field, and the media and fans off of it.


Ahkello Witherspoon:

This time last year, just about every 49ers fan (myself included) was hyping up CB Rashard Robinson as a shutdown corner. Man, how fast do things change in the NFL? This year, it is sophomore Ahkello Witherspoon generating a nice buzz at the corner position.

Paired with a veteran, savvy, yet extremely intelligent corner in Richard Sherman can only help Ahkello’s stock go up, up, up! After a full year on an NFL diet and condition program, Ahkello looks about twice as big as he did entering his rookie minicamp. It’ll be nice to see just how much he’s improved in this short amount of time at training camp. I could see the 49ers quickly having one of the NFL’s best secondaries in a few years to come. Adrian Colbert, Jaquiski Tartt, Ahkello Witherspoon are all extremely vital, promising pieces of the 49ers defense. I wouldn’t be surprised one bit to see reports out of training camp that he’s looking more and more like the CB1 the 49ers envisioned when they took a chance on him last season.


Joe Williams:

Remember the reports coming out after last year’s draft stating how Kyle Shanahan practically pounded the table to ensure John Lynch and Adam Peters took a shot on Utah back Joe Williams? Well Shanahan got his way, but unfortunately Williams didn’t play one snap during his rookie season. So it’s needless to say the jury is still out on Williams.

This offseason, the 49ers have not cleared the way for Williams’ rehabilitation into their good books. Though they went ahead and let veteran running back Carlos Hyde walk, they signed Jerrick McKinnon away from Minnesota. They’re also reportedly really high on fellow sophomore back Matt Breida (who actually picked up the playbook last season and was able to produce on the field – as an UDFA I might add). Joe Williams desperately needs to prove Coach right, and he could start doing that by showing up to camp ready to silence all of his doubters. Although McKinnon received a relatively large contract, after him it is pretty much up for the taking on the depth chart. Williams has the talent necessary to lock down a significant amount of playing time this season, but nothing is guaranteed in the NFL.


Richie James:

The 49ers wide receiver position has quickly gone from one of the most talent-deprived positions in the entire league, to a bastion of talent, old and young. Enter 7th round pick, Richie James. James was electrifying just about every time he received the ball, and that obviously caught the attention of the 49ers’ front office.

James is definitely facing an uphill battle, but he definitely has a chance to crack the roster this season, even if they keep him just as a special teams ace. James has quickly drawn lofty comparisons to one of the NFL’s best wide receivers – Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers. If the 49ers get even ½ of the receiver that Brown is out of a 7th round pick, I think that’s still a huge win for them. Now, I love Kendrick Bourne, but he has to feel the fire underneath him with rookies like Richie James and even Steven Dunbar battling for likely the same roster spot.


Jullian Taylor:

The 49ers have been plagued by an extremely ineffective pass-rush ever since Aldon Smith flew off the rails. It’s no secret – they’ve recently spent three consecutive 1st round picks on their defensive line (Armstead, Buckner, & Thomas). This year, San Francisco spent a 7th round pick on Taylor, and are hoping they have found yet another late-round gem. In our interview with him (shameless plug) he stated how proud he was to have held his own against the 6th overall pick in this year’s draft, Quenton Nelson. Now to be clear, I’m not saying Taylor is the sole answer to the 49ers’ pass-rush dilemma, but I will say he could help guys like Buckner, Thomas, Armstead, Marsh, and many more get to the passer and actually get some sacks this season. He is a stout run defender and an absolute monster in the trenches. The Temple product could easily provide the edge-rushers the rest they need to come in and be as productive as possible.Taylor has a chip on his shoulder, and I think he’s got a great chance at being a key contributor to this defense for years to come.

Scott Geelan of Nothing But Niners has a great thread on Jullian Taylor on twitter here!