The 49ers face the Panthers on Sunday, and from a depth standpoint, San Francisco got better during the bye and in practice this week.
In a series of much-anticipated moves, the team activated linebacker Aldon Smith, wide receiver Mario Manningham and cornerback Eric Wright from the Reserve/Non-Football Injury list.
All three are upgrades over the three players who were waived to make room for them on the 53-man roster: wide receiver Marlon Moore, linebacker Nate Stupar and cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha.
Moore caught a six-yard pass and rushed once for nine yards in six games. Manningham can do much more to help the under performing receiving corps. Moore’s 250 career receiving yards simply doesn’t compare to Manningham’s 38 starts, 202 receptions and a Super Bowl ring — even if he’s coming off a bad knee injury.
On the defensive side, Stupar was impressive in camp and preseason. He earned his way onto the roster and appeared in five regular-season games making three special teams tackles playing the “grinding the meat” style football Jim Harbaugh likes.
Despite a pending legal case, the fresh-out-of-rehab Smith is still the best edge rusher in the NFL. At some point he will resume his starting role, meaning Stupar was the odd man out but is just a phone call away from coming back if needed.
The big cut was Asomugha, who made one start in three games, but was inactive the last five games following a minor knee injury and the emergence of cornerbacks Tramaine Brock and Daryl Morris. The 32-year-old didn’t shine during his appearances and looked done.
Meanwhile, Wright is just 28 and a career starter (81 of 85 games) with 70 passes defensed and 14 interceptions, but off-field concerns are what people often associate with him. If the San Francisco native performs on the field, he’s almost sure to be re-signed and be in the mix for a starting role next season.
There was more good news for the 49ers this week as top wideout Michael Crabtree was cleared to practice for the first time following an Achilles injury suffered six months ago. He’d like to be back for the Dec. 1 game against the Rams.
The upsurge in talent to the active roster began back on Oct. 20 when rookie nose tackle Quinton Dial — the team’s fifth-round pick — was promoted. Second-rounder Tank Carradine was elevated on Oct. 31. Wide receiver Chris Harper and linebacker Jermaine Cunningham were cut in favor of Dial and Carradine.
With a 6-2 record entering the second half of the regular season, the reloaded 49ers now have arguably the deepest roster in the league.