The 49ers' Best Backups in Training Camp

Here are the 49ers’ backups who’ve played the best in practice.
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The 49ers technically didn’t practice Thursday, meaning I can’t give the good and not so good from camp today. My deepest apologies.

But I can give you a big-picture breakdown of the past 10 days of camp. Here are the 49ers’ backups who’ve played the best in practice:

1. Defensive Back Tarvarius Moore.

He’s the backup free safety behind Jimmie Ward, whom the 49ers gave a three-year, $28.5 million contract this offseason. So barring injury, Moore won’t become a starter soon. But new 49ers defensive backs coach Tony Oden has incorporated more man-to-man coverage into the defense, and Moore clearly is the 49ers’ best defensive back in man-to-man coverage.

Richard Sherman is elite in zone coverage, but no longer fast enough to cover deep crossing routes man to man. Moore can cover all types of routes. Plus he can cover tight ends, running backs and even wide receivers. He played cornerback as a rookie in 2018, and has played some nickelback in camp because starter K’Waun Williams is out with a calf injury. Eventually, the 49ers might want to move Moore back to corner -- he might be better than Ahkello Witherspoon and Jason Verrett.

The 49ers have to find lots of ways to use Moore in 2020. He’s too good to park on the bench.

2. Safety Johnathan Cyprien.

Has intercepted three passes in just six practices after signing with the 49ers midway through camp. Cyprien is a former quality starting strong safety for the Jaguars, but he tore his ACL in 2018 and hasn’t been effective since. But he looks healthy now and seems to be a play-maker.

Which is important. Because as well as starting strong safety Jaquiski Tartt has played in camp, he hasn’t intercepted any passes -- in fact, he has dropped three picks. And he has picked off only three passes during his five-year career. He’s good, but not a play-maker. And he’ll be a free agent after this season.

Cyprien seems to have played his way onto the 53-man roster in just a week.

Who knows, he might become the starting strong safety a year from now.

3. Defensive Lineman Kentavius Street.

First-round pick Javon Kinlaw and former first-round pick Solomon Thomas were the headliners at defensive tackle during camp. And both were solid.

But the best backup defensive tackle in camp has been former fourth-round pick Kentavius Street. He’s the most powerful and difficult to block of all the interior defensive linemen other than starters Arik Armstead and D.J. Jones.

Street came into the league in 2018 with a torn ACL and needed two years to recover. But he seems fully recovered now, and someone who can become a valuable member of an elite defensive-line rotation. He can play every position on the line, plus special teams, too. He probably deserves to start over Kinlaw, but most likely won’t because Kinlaw is a first-round pick. Still, Street’s opportunity will come.

4. Offensive Tackle Justin Skule.

He started eight games as a rookie last season and the 49ers won all eight. Skule, a sixth-round pick from Vanderbilt, held his own against some of the best edge-rushers in the world.

Skule is smart -- he picked up the 49ers complex offense as a rookie -- and he moves his feet quite well for a 6’7”, 315-pound man. But he wasn’t strong enough to be a full-time starter last season.

Now, Skule looks much stronger -- he worked out with George Kittle’s trainer this offseason. And so far in camp, Skule is without question the best backup offensive lineman. He looks like a starter. He does well during one-on-one pass-rush drills when he faces Dee Ford and Arik Armstead, the two highest-paid players on the defense.

Always good to have a starting-caliber offensive tackle as a backup.

5. Tight End Jordan Reed.

Has participated in just two practices, but already has established himself as the best route runner on the entire team. None of the 49ers defensive backs can cover him during one-on-one drills -- not even Moore. Reed beats them all without breaking a sweat. And he has superb hand-eye coordination. If he stays healthy, I expect he’ll play an integral role in the offense and score more touchdowns than the starting tight end, No. 85.

6. Running Back Jerick McKinnon.

Probably won’t start, nor should he -- Raheem Mostert has earned the job. Plus McKinnon needs a modest workload after missing the past two seasons with a torn ACL.

But he seems healthy now, and none of the 49ers linebackers can cover him during one on ones. Not Dre Greenlaw. Not Kwon Alexander. Not Fred Warner.

McKinnon looks like a quality third-down back who could catch 40 passes this season.

7. Quarterback Nick Mullens.

He keeps getting better. He’s more accurate than he used to be -- he’s the only quarterback in camp completing more than 70 percent of his passses during team drills. And his arm is stronger than it used to be. And he wants to show it off to his teammates, his coaches and the media, because he can’t show it off during the preseason, because there is no preseason this year.

Mullens has been much more aggressive than in the past. And so has he thrown five picks -- the same amount Garoppolo has thrown. Both quarterbacks have played well in camp despite the interceptions. So if Garoppolo misses time for any reason, the 49ers know they have a quarterback who can operate their offense at a high level.