Saturday’s roster cuts provided fans of the San Francisco 49ers some much needed feel-good stories.
A foreign newcomer to the NFL, an overshadowed and undrafted wide receiver, and a practice squad lineman buried deep in the depth chart all made the 49ers final 53-man roster.
Running back Jarryd Hayne, wide receiver DeAndrew White and defensive Mike Purcell were all once considered long shots to make the final roster at the beginning of the offseason.
They scrapped their way through a tough preseason to assert themselves among a crowd of hungry and talented individuals, earning the final nod of Jim Tomsula and his coaching staff.
Hayne’s addition to the 53-man roster caps off what has been a heavily documented journey to the NFL for the former National Rugby League all-star.
Just under a year after making the surprise announcement to leave his home and the NRL to try his hand at a brand new sport, Hayne’s mixture of athleticism, explosive speed, and power earned him a spot on an NFL roster.
The Australian wunderkind has looked dangerous while handling return duties for the 49ers, averaging 18.1 yards per punt return on nine tries, and one kick return for 33-yards.
His ability to switch gears and explode in the open field with both power and finesse has made for quite a highlight reel in his first preseason in the NFL.
And although the newcomer is still learning the finer points of being a running back, such as lowering his pad level and pass protection, his mixture of power, soft hands and explosiveness saw him bull his way to 175-rushing yards on 25 attempts this preseason, good for second in the NFL.
After wowing the 49ers catching staff with his rare athletic ability, Hayne announced via his Twitter handle his excitement in continuing his journey with the 49ers.
IT ALWAYS WORKS OUT! I thank GOD for WHAT HE has done and going to do on this incredible journey!! I'm on the 53 MAN ROSTER FOR THE #49ers.
— jarryd hayne (@JarrydHayne) September 5, 2015
But despite his near infamous status back in Australian and mass media coverage here in the states, the 27-year old continues to take a humble, and hungry, approach to improving on his NFL career.
“This whole journey was never about making a roster or being on a team, it was all about giving myself an opportunity. It was about saying that I want to take a risk. I want to put myself out there. I want to let my faith be in action…This whole journey, I’ve never felt so alive.”
Hayne will be hard pressed to see playing time on offense amongst a crowded and talented backfield with the likes of Carlos Hyde, Reggie Bush and Mike Davis blocking his path, but the Australian import will almost assuredly handle the return duties for San Francisco.
Hayne has also showed his capabilities at playing the gunner position on special teams, using his experience with making hard hits and tackles in rugby as a catalyst to excel in that role.
Although it may be a while before the Hayne plane can really take off behind Colin Kaepernick and the offense, the impressive newcomer to the NFL will be a treat for fans to watch during the return game, and an exciting prospect to watch as he continues his rapid development over the course of the season.
DeAndrew White is another rookie to watch as he continues to develop during his time with the 49ers. White has shown explosiveness and athleticism throughout training camp, earning himself a breadth of highlights during the period.
With the return of fellow WR Bruce Ellington, it appeared that White could have been the odd-man out of the receiving core, until a 77-yard receiving night during Thursday’s final preseason game solidified his spot on the roster.
White showed his coaches, and the fans, what makes him such an interesting talent to watch, as he made a number of athletic, leaping catches over the heads of San Diego’s cornerbacks, showing off his 4.44 speed down the sideline to boot.
White helped his own case with his eagerness to play special teams as well, looking like one of the team’s speediest and most impactful gunners on return coverage.
And while all eye’s have been on Hayne while fielding returns, White has looked like no slouch with the ball in his hands either.
The undrafted free agent out of Alabama even outperformed the Australian sensation during Thursday night’s game, returning one kickoff for 26 yards, and taking back three punts for 70 yards, good for an impressive 23.3 yard average.
White came into camp with a chip on his shoulder, being overshadowed throughout his injury-plagued college career at Alabama by the Raiders new highly lauded receiver Amari Cooper.
Now with a roster spot in tact, White looks to prove to himself, and the teams that passed him over in the draft, that Cooper wasn’t the only receiver from Alabama worth of the NFL spotlight.
It will be a challenge for White to overcome his injury woes in the more physical NFL, but if the speedy receiver can stay healthy, you can expect some more plays like this down the stretch.
Last, and not least, the 49ers defensive line was bolstered from an unlikely source, as second year lineman Mike Purcell played his way off of the practice squad and onto the 49ers 53-man roster with a strong preseason showing.
After relative obscurity on the bottom of the 49ers depth chart in 2014, Purcell immediately made his presence, and his progress, known during the first preseason game against Houston, as the 303-pound, former undrafted free agent was instrumental in orchestrating a goal line stand against a rolling Texans offense.
Purcell put his big frame to use, plugging up the running lanes against Houston, while showcasing his strength and quickness in breaking through the offensive line to total six tackles, with one for loss.
He finished the season with 12 combined tackles, while asserting himself as a trustworthy backup to starter Ian Williams. Now in his second season, Purcell has used his prior experience both on and off the field to grow into a player worthy of a roster spot among a talented defensive line group.
“I’ve grown overall, on and off the field, in the books and when it comes down to game day. You can always practice well and everything like that, but if you don’t carry it over into the game then it doesn’t really help, because what it really comes down to is winning on game days. For me to be able to get it all right in the classroom, watching film and making sure I have all the plays down, to actually performing on the field and making the big plays that helps us win, I think that’s what really helped me make the difference from past years to this year.”
And hey, he might give Hayne and White a run for their money in the return game as well.
Complete list of cuts:
- QB Dylan Thompon
- RB Kendall Gaskins
- FB Trey Millard
- WR’s Chuck Jacobs, Issac Blakeney, DiAndre Campbell, Mario Hull, Nigel King
- TE Xavier Grimble
- OL Patrick Miller, Justin Renfrow, Sean Hooey, Joe Looney, Dillon Farrell, Andrew Tiller
- DL Darnell Dockett, Kaleb Ramsey, Lawrence Okoye, Garrison Smith
- LB Nick Moody, Phillip Wheeler, Steve Beauharnais, Marcus Rush, Shawn Lemon
- CB Leon McFadden, Marcus Cromartie, Mylan Hicks
- S Craig Dahl, Jermaine Whitehead
- K Corey Acosta
PUP List: C Daniel Kilgore
Reserve/NFI list: WR DeAndre Smelter
Suspension: WR Jerome Simpson, six games.