Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Reacting to the 49ers’ initial 53-player roster heading into the 2021 season

Rohan Chakravarthi
Sep 2, 2021 at 11:30 AM--

The San Francisco 49ers 53-man roster has been confirmed as the deadline to cutdown from 80 players to 53 was Tuesday at 1PM PST.

With it came many expected names, but also a few surprises, so let's breakdown the full roster by position groups.

Quarterbacks (2)

While the 49ers have carried three quarterbacks onto their 53-man roster, the depth at other positions, plus their belief with the two they had ultimately had them go with just two, Garoppolo and Lance.

It seems that this was the move all along, as QB Nate Sudfeld got a $262,000 guarantee from the team when signing, which is equivalent to a full-season practice squad contract.

Still, this means that the team has to be cautious with its two quarterbacks, perhaps limiting the amount of drives where the team installs both quarterbacks for health purposes.

With just two quarterbacks, the 49ers were able to increase their defensive line and running back depth, two of their stronger position groups.

Running Backs (4)

The 49ers planned to carry 4 running backs (and one fullback) in a crowded backfield, so there was going to be much competition.

When Jeff Wilson Jr. tore his meniscus in the offseason, that opened up a spot, so Hasty, Mitchell, and RB Wayne Gallman were all fighting for a spot.

Personally, I thought Gallman would make it over Hasty due to his excellent preseason, where he consistently gained yards on the ground and was a good pass-protector, which certainly would help rookies adjust to the NFL in terms of pocket presence.

However, the team chose Hasty over Gallman and found his potential and athletic abilities to be of more value to them as a football team. Gallman could re-sign on the practice squad and serve as insurance for the backfield should injuries occur.

Wide Receivers (6)

This group was a little foretold as both Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch expressed that the team would carry 6 receivers, and almost assuredly confirmed Jalen Hurd's spot during press conferences leading up to the Las Vegas game.

The coaching staff had also praised Jennings' presence as a big wideout, so it wasn't surprising that he made the team either. And Trent Sherfield had a very impressive camp and preseason, and established a rapport with the rookie Trey Lance, meaning that WR Travis Benjamin, who signed to the practice squad, was the odd man out.

In the end, Shanahan placed an emphasis on the run-game and preferred bigger bodies for blocking assignments to establish that outside run, which was why Hurd and Jennings were good fits for the team.

Nsimba Webster, who was a return specialist for the team, was claimed by the Chicago Bears and didn't make it through to the practice squad. Since he hadn't developed as a receiver and Shanahan wanted players with flexibility, rather than just special-teams, there wasn't a spot for him on this roster.

Tight Ends (3)

The biggest surprise was MyCole Pruitt, who was cut despite getting a sizable $500,000 guarantee, indicating that the team wanted him on the roster.

Pruitt suffered a calf injury and couldn't make up the ground, and the move will be some dead cap money that the team will have to eat. The tight end returned to Tennessee where he came from and joined their practice squad, making it a failed investment for the 49ers.

Pruitt would've been a great help with his run-blocking skills, but couldn't stay on the field enough to showcase those talents.

Jordan Matthews, the receiver-turned-tight-end, was brought back on the practice squad, which was expected as he continues to improve on the transition.

Offensive Line (8)

The 49ers chose to go thinner at offensive line, bringing only eight players on the original 53-man roster, although they re-signed Jake Brendel to fill up a spot after IR moves were made.

Regardless, there's a mix of youth and veterans with this group, but the danger comes through injury. None of the backups, be it Tom Compton, Jaylon Moore, or Aaron Banks, are proven commodities, so health is key for this group of players specifically.

Colton McKivitz being cut in favor of Tom Compton was a little shocking, but the second-year player will refine his talent on the practice squad until he's ready.

Jake Brendel fills in the backup center role after being brought back in correlation with Maurice Hurst going on IR, adding to the team's depth behind starter Alex Mack.

Defensive Linemen (11)

During the preseason, it was evident that this group was going to be one of the best, if not the best position group on the team: the depth was that good.

There were plays from almost every player on the bubble of making the roster, and those final spots ended up going to Kerr, Street, Key, and Givens.

Kerr had a great game Sunday in terms of getting pressure, so he fought for his case to make the team. Key and Hurst both have had impressive camps, and provide good depth and the edge and interior positions, respectively.

DE Jordan Willis was placed on the suspended list for the first six games, so moves will be made likely as the team progresses to that point.

Hurst was carried onto the 53-man roster, but was placed on IR to create a roster spot, which was given to C/G Jake Brendel.

The X-factors here are Ford and Bosa, who didn't get action in the first two games, but should be ready for Week 1, which would improve their attack off the edge significantly.

Carrying 11 defensive linemen may seem like overkill, but in this group, that's exactly what the team is looking for.

Linebackers (5)

The linebacker group was host of some of the main position battles in camp, as players like Justin Hilliard and Jonas Griffith were fighting for roster spots at the backup middle linebacker spots.

Instead, the 49ers got greedy in a sense, thinking they could keep Hilliard, their prized undrafted free agent, on the practice squad and capitalized on Griffith's value by getting draft compensation for him.

Their move was certainly interesting, as Griffith ceded backup middle linebacker duties to Hilliard Sunday, which would've likely lowered his value in some sense and improved Hilliard's, and both players were lost due to trade and to waivers, respectively.

Harris, the safety-turned-linebacker, was an enticing project as his speed was certainly showcased. He had been criticized for his lack of coverage ability at the safety position and tackling at times, but put together a good offseason and seemed to have improved in those areas.

Flannigan-Fowles had been a special teams specialist for the past two seasons, but with only five linebackers, he will likely get playing time in that second line of defense.

Cornerbacks (6)

There was somewhat of a surprise here, as Davontae Harris made the team over veteran Dontae Johnson, who made it back to the team after placing Harris on IR.

However, Lenoir is the most interesting of this group, having an impressive first two weeks of preseason, as he allowed no catches over six attempted passes. The performance may convince the 49ers to give him an expanded role, which could happen with injuries.

The glaring issue with this group, however, is depth.

Verrett, the team's top outside corner, has played in more than six games just twice in his six-year career. In addition, nickel corner K'Waun Williams played in just eight games last year. With unproven commodities behind the top three, this group could be the team's Achilles Heel should injuries occur.

Safeties (4)

Tavon Wilson is the name to know in this group, as the veteran safety, who last played for Indianapolis, had a very impressive camp, catching the eyes of both his coaches and teammates.

When Tartt was injured and was placed on both the Reserve/COVID-19 list and the physically unable to play list, there was uncertainly as to who would start at strong safety opposite of Jimmie Ward.

Hufanga made a late push, but when healthy, Wilson was the player on the field with the first-team defense. He looks like another one of those gems that the 49ers found, just like veteran WR Trent Sherfield.

Now, with Tartt healthy, he returns to the starter role, but the quality of players behind him are great for backup players, speaking to the depth of the 49ers beyond their starters.

Specialists (3)

There wasn't anything unexpected with this group. Each position had only one player throughout the preseason, and the team will carry those same three onto the 53-man roster. Although, it could have been intriguing if the team cut Pepper to keep another player, then brought him back afterwards.

That's the breakdown of the full 53-man roster. Stay tuned for more updates on the 16-player practice squad and who else makes the team with corresponding moves.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.
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