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Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

How Trent Sherfield and Elijah Mitchell surprised 49ers GM John Lynch

Sep 2, 2021 at 6:50 AM--

"Who?" fans ask on social media.

That's the often reaction after an underwhelming signing by the San Francisco 49ers. Other fans will often respond to that question with, "Don't worry. He's just another camp body." Often that is true. And this was the exact reaction when wide receiver Trent Sherfield was signed in mid-March.

It made sense. Sherfield had been a member of the division rival Arizona Cardinals since 2018. However, 74 percent of his game snaps from last season came on special teams. He has caught just 28 passes in his three NFL seasons and wasn't a household name or even a vaguely recognizable one.

Nearly six months later, Sherfield is still with the 49ers, earning a spot on the initial 53-player roster. And to say that he has surprised both the media and fans alike would be an understatement.

That 80-yard touchdown pass by rookie Trey Lance in his first preseason action? That was Sherfield hauling in the football, scampering down the sideline and into the end zone.

"We've seen Trent Sherfield, who I'm going to be completely honest with you, we [signed] to be a special teams player, knowing he could be a good fourth or fifth receiver," general manager John Lynch said Wednesday on KNBR's Tolbert, Krueger & Brooks show. "Sometimes, you never know what you're going to get. We found a guy who's actually a lot better than that as a receiver, and he's earned his opportunities. So he'll get those early."

Now, Sherfield has a chance to make the impact he always hoped he could. He just wanted the opportunity.

"I've always [known] that I could play," Sherfield told reporters on Wednesday. "I think for me, it was just about getting that opportunity. Just somebody being able to see that I can play, somebody recognizing my value. And I think for me, I just kept my head down. Even when I was in Arizona, I was kind of just hidden beneath a lot of good talent, I just kept my head down. I knew that my time would come.

"And, like I said, I'm going to continue to keep my head down. And I'm not saying that my time has come yet. I don't know if that time has come but, for me, I think it's about keeping my head down and just chopping wood every single day. Every single chance that I get to play ball, I'm grateful for it. So, I'm just going out there, I'm just putting my best foot forward every chance I get."

Sherfield isn't the only 49ers player who surprised Lynch this offseason. For a while, fans weren't certain that the 49ers' sixth-round draft pick, running back Elijah Mitchell, would even make the team. Mitchell wasn't even sure. It looked like he was getting buried in the depth chart, sidelined for a couple of weeks due to an abductor strain. He missed valuable opportunities to prove himself and didn't get onto the field until the team's final preseason game this past weekend.

Mitchell finished the game with six carries for 24 rushing yards.

"[Tuesday's roster-cut deadline] was very stressful, but I'm just happy for the opportunity," Mitchell said on Wednesday. "... It was very nerve-wracking for me."

Mitchell could end up being the 49ers' primary returner on special teams, Lynch said. Even though the 49ers loved the running back heading into the later rounds of the draft and were surprised he was still available in the sixth round, Mitchell was a bit of a surprise when he finally arrived in Santa Clara.

"Elijah Mitchell is a tough kid," Lynch said. "I think what blows a lot of people's mind[s], everyone saw [third-round draft pick] Trey Sermon as this big back and Elijah Mitchell as a small guy. When they get here, they weigh in, and Elijah Mitchell weighs more."

Lynch laughed.

"He's a thick little muscled-up guy," the general manager continued. "He did have that groin pull, so we didn't see him a lot in preseason, but you got little taste of what he brings to the table — his skill set, which is speed and power. He has that good ability to put a foot in the ground and get downhill. It really lends to what we do both offensively and as a return-man.

"I think he's an exciting guy to watch. He's going to be a big part of this football team, both offensively and [on] special teams. And I like his mentality. He goes about it the right way. Very mature kid for the fact that he's a rookie, and I think he'll be a great addition."

You can listen to the entire conversation with Lynch below.

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