Undeniable Dilemma: Examining the 49ers Roster Cuts
I lack skill in most anything that one could use each day. I cannot swing a hammer, I cannot build Ikea furniture, and I cannot fix a single thing around the house. The feeling of failure, empty and maddening, flows through my body at warp speed when I am asked to do something constructive.
What I do not know is the feeling of being cut from a sports team. Over the past few days, thousands of NFL hopefuls had their lifelong dream shattered into pieces as they heard a coach say, we’re letting you go.
Most of the cuts the San Francisco 49ers made were almost predetermined. There were, however, a handful of surprises. Here are a few players who did not make the roster, and one who has no business on the team.
T Darrell Williams, Junior
I do not remember the last time I watched an offensive lineman experience a preseason like second-year tackle Darrell Williams had during August.
Williams started off the preseason well, earning an overall 69.7 grade from Pro Football Focus. He did not allow a single sack, pressure, hit, or hurry against the Dallas Cowboys.
Unfortunately, sometime after Week 1, the wheels fell off for Williams. Over the next three games, he allowed two sacks, one hit, six hurries, and nine pressures. (Per Pro Football Focus) Williams finished off his preseason by falling flat on his face when trying to block on a Los Angeles Charger.
Pro Football Focus added a truckload of stinging road salt to Williams’ wounds and gave him a 2.1 pass blocking grade for his preseason Week 4 performance. He finished the preseason with a 21.7 pass blocking grade, which was the second-lowest figure among qualifying tackles.
EDITOR'S NOTE: if you sign up for Pro Football Focus with those links you get access to a great site and they give Bret $10. Bret asked for $2.10 in honor of Williams and they almost rescinded his link
I understand the team needs bodies to fill a camp roster, but Williams had no business taking the field for the 49ers. Players like him end up getting others hurt.
RB Joe Williams
Last year, rookie Joe Williams entered the NFL with the hope that he could be the speedy back head coach Kyle Shanahan needed in his backfield.
Williams hurt his ankle and spent the 2017 season on injured reserve. He came into the 2018 season riding a high wave of potential as the third back in the 49ers’ backfield arsenal.
Nothing is assured in sports; players must take advantage of the opportunity before them, even if it’s not gift wrapped in a Tiffany Blue box. Williams did not do enough to beat any of the other backs out for a spot on the roster.
It’s tough to see a fourth-round pick flame out before playing a down in the regular season. But, I’m guessing Shanahan and others had seen enough from Williams to know he wasn’t the right player for the offense.
G Jonathan Cooper
Before the 49ers opened camp, I wrote that Jonathan Cooper’s most prominent foe was himself. He’s been plagued by injuries, and he’d lost starting jobs because he was out-played by the competition.
The 49ers' contest for right guard was open and fair. Cooper played in three preseason games, and frankly, he was an average offensive lineman.
The 49ers are not obligated to explain why they cut Cooper, but I have to assume they can get just as much out of Erik Magnuson at guard. Further, Magnuson can play any position on the offensive line - maybe not well, but he can be a serviceable player in a pinch.
TE Cole Hikutini
Players do not get cut because of an unfortunate series or one pitiable play. Indeed second-year tight end Cole Hikutini did not get cut because he missed a run block or two. He got cut because Garrett Celek and George Kittle have a well-rounded skill set, and Hikutini does not.
I was wholly unimpressed with Hikutini’s run blocking “effort” in the Week 2 preseason game against Houston. Pro Football Focus awarded Hikutini a 41.9 run blocking grade for his “work,” but it should be far lower. I noted him giving zero effort on some runs and flat out missing his block on others.
Running a good route or snagging a slightly off-target football can only get a tight end so far in the NFL. Hikutini proved that an inability to clear running lanes for the backs is a sure way to end up watching football from the sunny side of Levi’s Stadium.
The Why Did You Sell Us on Him?
DL Jeremiah Attaochu
I’ve grown weak and weary of the 49ers brass trying to sell the fanbase on an average player and then cutting him down the road.
On March 15, 2018, the 49ers signed defensive lineman Jeremiah Attaochu to a one-year deal and guaranteed him $2.5 million.
In a statement released on March 15, general manager John Lynch commented that Attaochu was, “… a wonderful fit for our scheme and our locker room. We expect Jeremiah to be productive on defense, while also providing us an exceptional player on special teams. He’s another guy who fits the mold of a 49er.”
From the outside, all things looked good for Attaochu making the 49ers roster. He started off training camp well. In fact, following practice on July 29, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh commented on Jeremiah Attaochu’s performance.
“Attaochu is relentless. He’s very, very business-like. He’s a lot more nimble if that’s the word than I thought he’d be. He’s very athletic. Very, very athletic. He is very determined, so we’re excited to have him. He comes with the right mindset so having him here and adding him to the group has been cool.”
I get it; $2.5 million is a box of bills that the 49ers’ brass keeps stuffed under the bathroom sink in the executive washroom. I’m unclear how a player is a wonderful fit to the locker room, who fits the mold and is very athletic, but somehow, fails to land on the 53-man roster.
If he played that poorly, then I'm not upset Attaochu isn't on the roster. My greater annoyance stems the team heaping praise on players who are not good enough to make a roster. It's become a thing under Lynch and Shanahan (please see quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley as evidence).
If a player is 50-50 to make the 53-man roster, then sign him quietly and don't tell the world he "fits the mold of a 49er."
T Garry Gilliam
Veteran tackle Garry Gilliam played six snaps in the preseason. He suffered a concussion against the Cowboys and didn’t see live action for the remainder of the month.
Garry Gilliam played about 130 snaps last year before hurting his knee.
Of course, in typical 49er fashion, the team kept Garry Gilliam on the 53-man roster. It’s not Christmas without getting a toothbrush in your stocking, and it’s not football season unless the 49ers have a truly terrible offensive lineman on the roster.
Gilliam is a waste of a roster position, and the team should have parted ways with him during the offseason.
Football speculation ends in a few short days. Please feel free to join me in wearing at least one article of 49er gear to your job or to your classes this week.
You can follow Bret on Twitter here!
Stay tuned to 49ersHub for more great content!