The 49ers on Tuesday announced an initial 53-man roster for the 2021 regular season. While it wasn’t hard to discern some of the moves that were coming, a roster cut from 80 players to 53 is always going to come with some surprises.
Now that we’ve had some time to take in the initial regular-season roster and the cuts it took to get there, we came up with a list of the biggest surprises from Tuesday:
No kick returners among WRs
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The discussion about the 49ers receiving corps exiting the final preseason game surrounded Travis Benjamin and Nsimba Webster – the two receivers with experience as punt and kick returners. Neither wound up landing on the initial 53-man roster with Jauan Jennings and Jalen Hurd both making the cut instead. There’s a chance one or both players winds up back in Santa Clara, but the first version of the roster will have neither player on it and rookie running back Elijah Mitchell looks to be first in line to return kicks.
Wayne Gallman II let go
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This wasn’t a huge surprise with five capable players in the backfield and only four roster spots for running backs. Gallman, a four-year veteran, had a good camp and ran well in the preseason. Behind Mostert he would’ve been the most experienced player in the backfield which made it seem like he’d be someone they’d try to rely on. He was beat out by Mitchell and second-year undrafted free agent JaMycal Hasty, leaving the 49ers running back room full of talent, but short on experience.
Jonas Griffith traded
(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
One of the first bits of news that came down Tuesday was from NFL media’s Tom Pelissero, who reported the 49ers traded Griffith and a 2022 seventh-round pick to the Broncos for a sixth-round pick in 2022 and a seventh-round choice in the 2023 draft. The 49ers made the trade official Tuesday afternoon. Griffith looked to be the front runner ahead of Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles and Marcell Harris. He’s the only true linebacker of that trio with the other two moving to the position from their natural safety spots. Now they’ll go with athleticism over experience which will be fine for now as long as the starting group stays healthy.
Davontae Harris makes the squad
(AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Harris was claimed off waivers by San Francisco from the Ravens in the middle of camp and had all the look of an additional player to help out a position where the 49ers had suffered some injuries. He didn’t practice in the final week of the preseason and missed the finale against the Raiders with an injury which seemed to seal his fate. Alas, he survived cuts and now could play a sizable role with the 49ers secondary if he stays with the club and they experience any availability problems at the top of the depth chart.
Colton McKivitz waived
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The 2020 fifth-round pick offered some good versatility with his experience at tackle in college and his move to guard in the pros. He was working in at the right guard competition and looked to be on track for a roster spot in Year 2. He was waived Tuesday though with veteran Tom Compton taking his place. McKivitz didn’t necessarily put together a stellar preseason, but it was still a surprise to see the 49ers cut ties with a player just one year after drafting him.
No third QB
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Head coach Kyle Shanahan has typically had three QBs on the active roster during his tenure with the 49ers. That won’t be the case this year though with Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance topping the depth chart. Nate Sudfeld was released after working as the third quarterback throughout camp and San Francisco will likely go into the regular season with only two signal callers on their roster. It wasn’t a stunner, but still a bit jarring to see the 49ers roll with only Garoppolo and Lance in a year where they plan on playing them both in games. If Lance winds up playing a lot with Garoppolo the team will effectively go into games with no backup quarterback.
A lot of D-line
(AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)
11 is a lot of defensive lineman. This isn’t something the team is forcing though. They have 11 NFL-caliber defensive linemen and that’s a group that want to ensure is deep enough to wreak havoc in the trenches for four quarters and withstand an injury or two. The front office purposely put together an extremely deep group and it worked out for them with 11 players making the 53-man roster. The 49ers might’ve been able to use an extra roster spot elsewhere, but they chose instead to stack up the D-line as much as they could.