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49ers choose talent over need with final roster cuts

The 49ers chose talent over needs to trim their roster to 53 players this week, but lingering questions remain between now and the Sept. 12 season opener at Detroit.

Travis Benjamin and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix were two names the Niners released, while Jalen Hurd’s future is answered — for now.

Benjamin’s best opportunity to make the final roster had been as a return specialist, which opened up when Richie James started the season on IR. Now, with neither James or Benjamin as options, General Manager John Lynch was untelling about the team’s next steps moving forward.

Benjamin left last Sunday’s game against the Raiders with a concussion.

Lynch said:

“Well, we have a plan and there’s a number of guys who’ve been working on that during the preseason. … We feel quite good about our plan. I’ll leave that to Kyle to announce who it is and what it is and the depth there and all that when he chooses to.”

Shanahan, in Shanahan style, wouldn’t announce the starting returner but said the player is already on the team.

One of the talents San Francisco decided to keep was Hurd. The third-year player was active for the first time in two years Sunday.

He played more than 20 snaps in last week’s preseason finale over the Raiders. The former third-rounder had an up-and-down game, dropping two on-target passes and a miscommunication with tailback Elijah Mitchell which resulted in a QB sack.

Lynch and the Niners want to see their investment through, and though Hurd’s game last Sunday wasn’t perfect, the 49ers are betting on him to be a long-term contributor. Expect them to be cautious with him as well, given his injury history.

In 2019, Lynch injured his back in a joint practice with the Denver Broncos and last season, he tore his ACL in training camp, which caused him to miss his second straight year.

Lynch said:

“Jalen has some special skills, some unique skills and has a variety of them. … He’s got a versatility to his game. He knows it. We know it. You have to show that you can be dependable, that you can be out there. … Do we feel 100 percent iron clad that he’s proven that he’s that in the short amount of time that he’s been out there? No, but we like the talent he brings.”

One pleasant surprise for the 49ers was the return of safety Jaquiski Tartt. Tartt was activated from the PUP earlier this month, but with a quick turnaround time, he’s projected to be the starter for Week 1.

Shanahan said:

“Tartt’s definitely good enough and showed that to our starter. … If he can make it through next week healthy, that’s what it looks like he’s on track for.”

In reality, the 49ers were banking on Tartt being healthy and he came back much earlier than predicted. So, insurance players like Clinton-Dix were waived.

The team chose Tavon Wilson as a backup over Clinton-Dix because he had more reps with the team.

Lynch said:

“Tavon has been here throughout the offseason. Tavon is a really good special teams player. He also has versatility at both strong and free. Ha Ha came in late but really showed himself in a great fashion and he’s a popular player in this locker room.”

Lynch said they are in discussions to sign Clinton-Dix on their practice squad. He ended his short tenure with the Niners with an interception, which set up the final touchdown last Sunday.

This final 53-man San Francisco roster is one of the deepest and talented rosters in the league, one that compares to the 2019 squad when they went to the Super Bowl.

Shanahan said:

“I feel like this is the third year in a row that I feel like we have a chance in every game that we’re in. … And that’s kind of all you ask for from your talent standpoint, from the situation your organization gives you.”

The 49ers have a healthy mix of young stars, players in their primes, and reliable veterans. One of the biggest hurdles they’ll face is health. If they can conquer the injury bug, then this team could be looking at another deep run.

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