Don’t overlook the practice squad. Here are four undrafted free agents on the 49ers’ practice squad who could make an impact on game day for the Niners this season.
49ers Cornerback/Safety, Qwuantrezz Knight
Former Maryland, Kent State and UCLA defensive back, Qwuantrezz Knight jumps off the film. He has a nose for the football like fellow rookie defensive back Samuel Womack. In 2019 at Kent State, Knight exhibited versatility playing multiple positions in the secondary racking up 74 total tackles with 10.5 tackles for a loss, an exceptional number for a nickel corner/safety.
Following his big year in 2019, he transferred to UCLA and competed in the Pac 12. In his two seasons at UCLA, Knight accumulated 104 total tackles and added 13 more tackles for a loss. Over his final three seasons in FBS competition, he piled up big numbers with 178 total tackles, 23.5 TFLs, and 5 sacks.
The San Francisco 49ers signed Knight as an undrafted free agent in 2022 and he fits perfectly into their scheme with his versatility. In training camp, he illustrated knowledge of the scheme helping other defensive backs line up correctly, and was a vocal leader on the second team.
In today’s NFL, teams need to carry two or three adequate backups in the secondary depending on the personnel and scheme of the opponent. Especially when NFL offensive coordinators are drifting to three and even four wide receiver sets to spread out opposing defenses.
To counter, defensive coordinators use ”nickel” or “dime” packages to stop them. The 49ers and DeMeco Ryans could use Knight in the second slot corner in a “dime” package with Womack on the other side, along with Charvarius Ward and Emmanuel Moseley on the outside. Ryans would have the choice to either blitz Knight off the edge, which is a strength, or play him in coverage where he is a formidable cover corner and tackler.
We could see Knight in several games this season. The 49ers could give him a roster spot in the following matchups:
Kansas City Chiefs
Los Angeles Rams
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
New Orleans Saints
Each opponent possesses multiple weapons at wide receiver, and as always, we do not know if injuries will occur. Knight could be the swiss army knife to create extra pressure against these pass-heavy offenses.
49ers Wide Receiver, Tay Martin
“Big Play” Tay started his collegiate career at Washington State but transferred to Oklahoma State in 2020. He had a rough 2020 campaign but bounced back with a monster 2021. He exploded in 2021 leading the Big 12 with 1,046 receiving yards on 80 catches and 11 touchdowns while averaging 13.1 yards per reception. In the 2021 Fiesta Bowl against Notre Dame, Martin caught 10 passes for 103 yards and 3 touchdowns, leading the Cowboys to victory.
Tay Martin is not the fastest receiver on the team, however, he might be the quickest. Standing at 6’3 his lateral quickness allows him to gain separation. Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch love the senior bowl and Tay Martin was a standout. He clearly caught the 49ers’ eye.
Not many 1,000-yard and 10+ touchdown receivers go undrafted, let alone not go to the NFL combine. Did you know Tay Martin did not receive a single combine invitation? This was a shock to many, however, the 49ers signed him regardless as an undrafted free agent.
Adding to his unique story, we did not see him play many snaps in the preseason. Why didn’t he play or get targets? One theory is the 49ers didn’t want to provide film of him for the rest of the league to see so other teams would not sign him.
Eventually, the 49ers signed him back to the practice squad after his release. But he could play a role as the sixth wide receiver should the 49ers choose to elevate him. Kyle Shanahan loves to rotate receivers given where the offense is on the field. If Shanahan decides to play Martin this season, he should utilize Martin’s size and quickness in the red zone, giving Trey Lance another option.
49ers Linebacker, Marcelino McCrary-Ball
Indiana University defensive back Marcelino McCrary-Ball transitioned to off-ball linebacker for the 49ers. Hampered with injuries in 2021, the 49ers were forced to play several linebackers other than the core of Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw, and Azeez Al-Shaair. Due to Greenlaw’s injury history, McCrary-Ball fits right into his spot.
During his five years at Indiana McCrary-Ball had 242 total tackles, 16.5 tackles for a loss, 5.5 sacks, four interceptions, and one forced fumble. While he wasn’t a “stat padder” he was a consistent presence on the Hoosier defense. Standing at 6’0 and 215 pounds.
The 49ers signed him as an undrafted free agent as well. Although undersized for a linebacker standing at 6’0 215 pounds, McCrary-Ball shined making several plays in his debut against the Green Bay Packers. Flashing his speed and football IQ, McCrary-Ball picked off Jordan Love off a deflection and returned the ball 50 yards into Packer territory.
Marcelino McCrary-Ball an impressive interception and return 🔥 🎥 @49ers #49ers #FTTB pic.twitter.com/W0D3ZSXfHA — 49ermedia (@49ermedia) August 13, 2022
In the 49ers’ final preseason game against the Texans, McCrary-Ball exhibited sure tackling, racking up 3 solo tackles and 3 assisted tackles. He was released by the franchise but signed back to the practice squad.
We could see McCrary-Ball in several games this season. The 49ers could give him a roster spot in the following matchups:
McCrary-Ball’s speed and sure tackling would be an asset against these teams who plan to run the ball frequently and utilize short passing schemes.
49ers Offensive Lineman, Jason Poe
Athletic Mercer guard/center, Jason Poe, scored in the 89th percentile or higher in the following categories: bench press, 40-yard dash, vertical jump, broad jump, and 10-yard split. These metrics make Poe an ideal fit for Kyle Shanahan’s offense.
Not only is Poe lightning quick for an offensive lineman, he is unbelievably strong, benching 500 pounds and deadlifts of over 400 pounds. At Mercer, Poe primarily played inside at right guard despite being undersized. One of the most important aspects of an offensive lineman is converting speed to power, and Poe does this exceptionally well.
The 49ers signed him as an undrafted free agent early in the process. In a surprise, the 49ers released Poe luckily making it through waivers and signing back with the team. The Mercer product received praise from future Hall of Famer left tackle, Trent Williams.
“His size naturally gives him leverage and he’s explosive and a very quick guy.” Williams said.
We could potentially see a scenario where he becomes a starter in 2022. There are question marks all over the offensive line including second-year guard Aaron Banks and veteran tackle Mike McGlinchey. Imagine Jason Poe, an undrafted rookie taking the starting job from a second-round draft pick from a premier program like Notre Dame. McGlinchey is also a question mark as he is nursing a knee injury.
There is a scenario where fellow rookie lineman Spencer Burford slides to right tackle and Poe takes over at right guard. While this may be alarming, Poe can become a steady piece on the line and a cornerstone of the interior offensive line moving forward.
All four of these players are undrafted rookies, were cut by the team, and signed back to the practice squad. We will see who gets the most playing time, however, each one has a specific role to fill and the 49ers may have found concrete starters for the future.