Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

49ers 85-man roster cutdown breakdown

Rohan Chakravarthi
Aug 18, 2022 at 2:00 PM--

The San Francisco 49ers made their first group of cuts on Tuesday, ahead of Thursday's deadline to trim down from a 90-man roster to an 85-man roster, releasing cornerback Darqueze Dennard, defensive tackles Robert Nkemdiche and Tomasi Laulile, receiver KeeSean Johnson, and fullback Josh Hokit.

Here's a breakdown of why the 49ers cut each of these players, which included a few surprises, especially this early in the process.

1. CB Darqueze Dennard

Darqueze Dennard was perhaps the most surprising cut for the 49ers, as the veteran cornerback had been the primary starter at the nickelback position for the majority of training camp, including Friday's preseason game against the Green Bay Packers.

However, during the last week of training camp, rookie Samuel Womack was eating into Dennard's first-team reps, including a practice where the Toledo product took all of the time with the starting defense.

I've been predicting that the 49ers would release Dennard during the entirety of the offseason, especially when seeing the depth at cornerback, which includes investments in Womack, Tariq Castro-Fields, Deommodore Lenoir, and Ambry Thomas in the past two drafts, alongside their starting cornerback duo of Charvarius Ward and Emmanuel Moseley.

Dennard was a good addition for the offseason, as he was one of the smartest players in the secondary and was a great resource for Womack, as defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans alluded to on Thursday.

"Well yeah, with [the] move [to cut Dennard], we felt like we had some younger guys who can definitely step in and grow and really become the guys that we want to see at that spot. Darqueze was great for us. He's a great pro, handled everything with class. And he did a great job of actually mentoring and helping the young guys behind him," Ryans said. "And that's what the NFL is all about for the veteran guys. You pass the game on to the younger guys coming along and Darqueze did a great job of helping [CB Samuel] Womack and Q Knight and [DB Deommodore Lenoir] D-Mo in there. He's helped all those guys and we're thankful for what he did for us."

But, even if the 49ers didn't intend to keep Dennard on the 53-man roster, why release him so early instead of continuing the competition and providing adequate depth for the remainder of the preseason?

It appears that the 49ers actually dealt in good faith with Dennard, allowing him to find another home before the August 30th 53-man cutdown day so he can fight for a roster spot elsewhere after a good camp in San Francisco.

2. DT Robert Nkemdiche

After a fairly good showing during training camp, Robert Nkemdiche was another somewhat surprising cut this early.

Nkemdiche had served as solid depth for the 49ers as they nursed the injuries of Arik Armstead, Maurice Hurst, and Hassan Ridgeway, making plays in the backfield, while also being extremely vocal and upbeat.

But, with Armstead and Ridgeway returning soon, as well as the emergence of newly-signed defensive lineman Akeem Spence, who has seen time with the first and second-team defense during training camp, it became apparent that Nkemdiche's potential spot on the 53-man roster was slowly fading away.

In a way, the 49ers dealt with Nkemdiche (who had a down year in Seattle in 2021) in good faith as well, allowing him to sign elsewhere following a good camp and preseason game, which could provide him another opportunity to revitalize his career, as he's only 27 years old.

3. DT Tomasi Laulile

Tomasi Laulile was a late addition for the 49ers, as he joined the team following the aforementioned injuries to players in the defensive line rotation.

Laulile was primarily on the fourth-string defensive line, making this a simple choice with players slated to return from injury soon.

This wasn't a surprising cut with the immense depth on the defensive line compared to other position groups.

4. WR KeeSean Johnson

KeeSean Johnson's release ends the story of a former Arizona Cardinals receiver making it to the 49ers' 53-man roster for the second season in a row after Trent Sherfield's emergence last season, but this cut wasn't necessarily a surprising move either.

Johnson hadn't played poorly during training camp by any means but had been limited in 11-on-11 reps during practice due to the number of players above him on the depth chart.

Fringe-roster candidates Malik Turner and Tay Martin received more playing time than Johnson and have looked the best among the backups, making it highly unlikely that the former Cardinals and Eagles receiver would have a chance to make the 53-man roster or even the practice squad.

While 24-year-old wideout Austin Mack has faced drop issues throughout training camp, the 49ers have seemed to hold him in higher regard, electing to keep the former New York Giant, while letting Johnson walk.

Johnson has already found a new home, signing a deal with the Atlanta Falcons who have dealt with a rash of injuries at receiver.

5. FB Josh Hokit

Josh Hokit was the last player cut during the first cutdown period, and this move was somewhat surprising, given the frequency that the 49ers utilize a fullback in their formations.

However, Hokit's release allows the 49ers to try out tight ends, such as Ross Dwelley, at the position, where they can showcase their versatility, providing head Kyle Shanahan with more creative opportunities.

One thing to note: Hokit could return to the 49ers' practice squad, where he's been for the past two seasons. The 24-year-old fullback could be the eventual replacement to current star Kyle Juszczyk, as he's unlikely to be claimed on waivers, given the minimal usage of the position in today's NFL.
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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