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SANTA CLARA – Mainstays safely watched from the 49ers sideline as Thursday night’s exhibition finale afforded others a final audition to either be a stud or a dud. The nominees are:
1. Running back Jeff Wilson Jr.: Promoted from the practice squad last season, Wilson enhanced his roster bid with a 41-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter. Wilson cut back right and received a tremendous, down-field block by hustling quarterback C.J. Beahard.
Wilson’s 100 yards (20 carries) pulled him with 22 of the NFL’s exhibition lead, a title won by a 49ers rusher from 2009-11 with Glen Coffee, Anthony Dixon and Kendall Hunter. “It was just like, ‘Play ball,’ ” Wilson said. “If you are in, then you are in. If you run, then you run. I don’t even worry about carries or yards. I am just zoned in and playing.”
2. Wide receiver Deebo Samuel: The second-round draft pick shined throughout the exhibition season, capping it with two receptions for 16 yards as a starter in this one. He also got open over the middle on a fourth-down pass play that C.J. Beathard looked elsewhere. Asked of Samuel’s potential as a Week 1 starter, Shanahan said: “He’s earned the right to be in the conversation.”
3. Linebacker Dre Greenlaw. His range, physicality and nose for play making will make him their starting strong-side linebacker. He had a 5-yard sack on Cardale Jones and three tackles in limited action. (Greenlaw’s coverage ability remains suspect.)
Honorable mention: Defensive end Damontre Moore, C.J. Beathard, D.J. Reed (as kick returner).
1. Safety Antone Exum. He whiffed on an open-field tackle attempt on the game’s first play. A second-quarter blitz saw him go too wide. And he got bull-rushed into punter Mitch Wishnowsky’s plant leg.
2. Wide receiver Kendrick Bourne. How can a guy who caught a touchdown pass with great effort still rank as a dud?Consistency has been his issue, and he earlier dropped a 9-yard pass that continued a troubling trend. That said, his play-making ability and hustle are enticing enough to merit a roster spot.
“That’s not the most consistent right there, but drops from Bourne haven’t been too much of a problem,” Shanahan said of Thursday’s drop. “I do consider Bourne having some of the better hands on our team. So, that’s definitely one that he should’ve had and hurt a drive. I think we went three and out on that drive. He’s earned a little bit more with that in terms of how good his hands are.”
3. Safety Marcell Harris: He went for the hard hit at the 9-yard line rather than potentially wrap up Chargers running back Detrez Newsome. Harris took a wrong angle later in the red zone and was left grabbing air. He started camp by challenging for strong safety Jaquiski Tartt’s job but that bid has halted.