49ers roster: Brock Purdy and 3 starters playing for their jobs in 2023

Soccer is full of unknowns, and that’s a big reason why we keep coming back. If we had told you last June that Brock Purdy would start every game after the second week of December, you would have assumed the 49ers were in the top 10 of NFL Draft.

Players sometimes lose their jobs due to performance. Other times it is harmful. Deommodore Lenoir made the most of his reps after the Niners lost Emmanuel Moseley to an ACL injury early last year. Now Lenoir is expected to start at cornerback.

Let’s play the guessing game. Which current projected starter is most likely to lose their job at season’s end? When we asked this question a year ago, Samson Ebukam ran away with the poll with 41 percent. It is clear that he was a mainstay in the defensive line-up. So that shows you how good we can be with our predictions ahead of time.

Here are four options.

Brock Purdy

It’s too obvious to ignore. Purdy has a lot going for him. He has the support of the organization, a brilliant play-caller and a group of weapons that most quarterbacks would trade their souls for.

But there is still just enough question marks about Purdy’s game to wonder if he can continue to play at the amazing level he did a year ago. All season, opponents waited for the other shoe to drop and Purdy to become the last pick in the draft, but it never happened.

Will Purdy’s outstanding touchdown ratio and turnover luck regress to the mean? Will his Johnny Manziel-esque style of backyard football get him more trouble than good? Those are the two properties I would worry about the most. At his size, there is also always the worry of injuries.

Then again, Purdy needs to “stick to the script” and all should be fine.

Deommodore Lenoir

The depth at cornerback for the 49ers is a bit questionable, which bodes well for Lenoir. He has to fend off the likes of rookie Darrell Luter Jr., or last year’s fifth round pick Samuel Womack. Other than those two, it’s between Ambry Thomas or a pair of undrafted free agents as Isaiah Oliver looks to handle the nickel position.

Lenoir came on strong in the playoffs, was an exceptional run defender all year, but there were enough holes in his game to make you wonder if the 49ers could do better opposite Mooney Ward.

He had nine tackles for loss, but also had a broken tackle rate of nearly 20 percent, according to Sports Info Solutions. Lenoir surrendered just one touchdown, but when he did allow one reception, it was almost for a first down while allowing north of a 62 percent completion percentage.

Lenoir has the ideal demeanor as he is confident and generally able to play. Athleticism matters in athletics, especially at cornerback, and Lenoir doesn’t have the plus traits that top-tier cornerbacks have, putting more emphasis on his technique.

Drake Jackson

The 49ers have said all the right things about Jackson, the player many expected Ebukam to lose his job to a year ago this offseason. Jackson’s extra muscle, so now he can hold up against the run. After going through his first full offseason, he understands the rigors of the NFL.

Will his lack of playing time as a rookie hurt Jackson in Year 2? That wasn’t the case for Talanoa Hufanga, who played sparingly as a rookie and then turned into an All-Pro last year. But it is a different attitude and there is no hiding in the trenches. You’re either built for it, or you’re not.

Ebukam played with a tireless energy and effort that wore off on the opposing offensive lineman as the game wore on. Jackson’s speed was his calling card coming out of college. He did a great job as a rookie, but will it be enough?

Jackson is unlikely to lose his job given the 49ers’ investment at the edge rusher since the end of the season. The lack of movement tells us that they will have Drake to play.

Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant are his backups, while rookie Robert Beal Jr. likely to be brought slowly if the team had its choice. Jackson not being a starter in the middle of the season would be more of an indictment of him than anything else.

Tashaun Gipson

Gipson is the obvious choice after the 49ers traded up in the third round to select Penn State safety Ji’Ayir Brown, who made some noise during minicamp. If Gipson’s game takes a step back or he isn’t as consistent as he was a season ago, new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks could opt for the rookie.

As was the case with Lenoir, Wilks has no ties to Gipson. Playing Brown in 2023 would be more about the future and developing him in real time as opposed to giving those reps to a player on a one-year contract.

If Brown can continue his ability to find the ball, it will be difficult for Wilks to keep him off the field and Hufanga is going nowhere. All of that makes it easy to see the path toward playing time for Brown, meaning Gipson loses playing time.

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