49ers release Corey Lemonier and 21 others

The final batch of roster cuts for the San Francisco 49ers were made on Saturday afternoon, trimming the squad to the league mandated 53-man limit needed prior to the start of the regular season.

There were a number of notable moves by general manager Trent Baalke and head coach Chip Kelly, perhaps none more significant than the fact that quarterback Colin Kaepernick will stay with the team and continue his pursuit of the starting role.

While Kaepernick’s crusade to win his job back-and his continuing activism against racial injustice — will likely grab the headlines in the weeks to come, Saturday’s lesser-known roster moves also hold significance as the 49ers prepare for the start of Week 1 against the Los Angeles Rams.

We’ll take a look at some of Saturday’s most important transactions below.

NOTABLE CUTS

LB Marcus Rush 

Rush was among the biggest surprise cuts by Baalke and company on Saturday, after the second-year player had an eye-popping preseason display as a pass rusher.

Rush lead the entire NFL in the preseason with six sacks, while grading out as PFF’s top pass rusher out of 152 edge defenders according to Jeff Deeney. Rush’s final game against San Diego looked to have secured his spot after he notched on two more sacks, a forced fumble and an interception in his final showing.

However, the majority of Rush’s work came against the opponent’s third-team offensive line, perhaps inflating his numbers and efficacy. As Deeney also pointed out in the above Tweet, Rush was also near the bottom in defending against the run, perhaps countering his knack for getting to the quarterback in the eyes of Baalke.

Still, the 49ers are thin at outside linebacker with the four-game suspension of Aaron Lynch to open the season, making it a questionable decision after seeing the leap in talent Rush has made. The 49ers will have just Ahmad Brooks, Eli Harold and Tank Carradine to make up their edge rush core, after the team also announced it cut the next person on our list.

LB Corey Lemonier

Lemonier — a third-round draft pick in the 2013 draft — has been one of the quietest picks that Baalke has made. Which is saying a lot. The Auburn product has had just one sack in 401 career pass-rush attempts, while never quite learning how to dupe his NFL counterparts.

The move to cut Lemonier at a time when the 49ers are thin at the outside linebacker position says a lot about what the 49ers think of his ability to play at the NFL level after investing such a high pick in him. But Lemonier was likely to see no playing time behind the likes of Lynch, Brooks, Harold and Carradine, making it a necessary move to open up space for a potential contributor.

WR DeAndrew White

Another surprising move given the 49ers thin options at receiver, the team decided to cut second-year receiver DeAndrew White.

Although White had caught just two passes for 18 yards last season, the young receiver looked to be in line for more opportunities under Kelly given the departure of Anquan Boldin and Jerome Simpson, the injury to slot receiver Bruce Ellington, and his work with the second-team offense early in preseason.

Although White had seen time working out of the slot, the 49ers acquisition of Jeremy Kerley may have made White’s spot on the roster expendable. Kerley figures to be the 49ers primary slot receiver, while also handling punt return duties-something White had been able to offer the team as well.

With Kerley providing a more proven track record of doing the things that White was fighting for, the team decided it was time to cut him. A fresh crop of recently-cut receivers from around the league also likely factored into the decision to cut White.

RB DuJuan Harris

After being poached off the Ravens practice squad late last season, the shifty Harris had seen a good body of work for the injury plagued 49ers.

Harris worked in two games for San Francisco last season-starting one of them — while gaining 27 touches for 140 yards rushing in the span.

However, the emergence of second-year back Mike Davis in the preseason edged Harris off the roster, after Davis broke free for 148-yards on 19 touches in four games, good for 12th in the NFL.

Davis has looked to run with the same power that Harris has shown, but has also added seven receptions for 50 yards, making him a versatile-and ultimately more useful- back in Kelly’s offense.

DT Garrison Smith

A more under-the-radar cut than some of the above names, but interesting none-the-less given the 49ers thinness at the nose tackle position. Smith-who has bounced around since coming into the league in 2014 as an undrafted free agent- had a breakout preseason similar to Rush’s.

The six-foot-one, 300-pounder had 15 tackles from the nose position, including five for loss to score PFF’s highest grade amongst defensive tackles this preseason.  However, like Rush, he may have been a victim of the competition he faced.

With Ian Williams on the Non-Football Injury list, Mike Purcell is the 49ers only true nose tackle that’s healthy on the current roster.

QB Jeff Driskel

With the hype surrounding Driskel in training camp, you may have thought he was the second coming of Tom Brady. The sixth-round pick in this year’s draft did indeed look effective and calm during his first NFL training camp, but faltered heavily in Thursday’s game against San Diego, effectively punching his ticket to the 49ers practice squad.

Driskel’s Thursday night outing may have just been a blip in what was otherwise a solid preseason, where he went 14-for-27 and 129 yards in his first three showings, but with the newly signed Christian Ponder showing veteran poise since joining the 49ers, it forced the young rookie off the roster.

Other notables include: RB Kelvin Taylor, LB Shayne Skov, OT Colin Kelly, and WR Devon Cajuste. Below is a full list of cuts.

  • WR Dres Anderson
  • OL Alex Balducci
  • WR Devon Cajuste
  • DL Demetrius Cherry
  • OL Fahn Cooper
  • QB Jeff Driskel
  • TE Je’Ron Hamm
  • RB DuJuan Harris
  • CB Prince Charles Iworah
  • OL Colin Kelly
  • LB Corey Lemonier
  • DL B.J McBryde
  • OL Norman Price
  • LB Marcus Rush
  • LB Shayne Skov
  • NT Garrison Smith
  • RB Kelvin Taylor
  • WR Bryce Treggs
  • WR Ryan Whalen
  • WR DeAndrew White

Shawn Whelchel is SFBay’s San Francisco 49ers beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @ShawnWhelchel on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of 49ers football.