This is my Sunday column.
One interesting selection on the 49ers’ final roster: rookie running back Mike Davis. He seems to have taken a job away from veteran running back Kendall Hunter.
The Niners placed Hunter on the Injured Reserve list Saturday afternoon even though he played the final two preseason games.
Hunter didn’t play well in those games, averaged only 2.1 yards per carry. Davis averaged 4.3 yards per carry all preseason. Davis is quick, explosive and confident, as opposed to Hunter, who is sluggish and tentative after tearing his ACL in August of 2014.
If Davis hadn’t played so well, the Niners might have included Hunter on the final roster. But Davis was good, so the Niners can let Hunter rehab his surgically repaired knee for another year and see what happens then.
Here are five more interesting selections on the Niners’ final roster cuts.
1. RB Jarryd Hayne
After the 49ers announced their cuts, Jim Tomsula spoke with Bay Area reporters on a conference call. I asked him about Jarryd Hayne, the 27-year-old former Australian Rugby League star. What is his role? Is he the starting punt and kick returner?
“No, I won’t say that right now,” Tomsula said. “We’ve got some guys at that position that are pretty competitive. As we game plan, we will determine those things.”
Hayne performed surprisingly well as a returner during the preseason, but during the fourth and final exhibition game returners Bruce Ellington and DeAndrew White performed even better. Hayne may be the third-best returner on the roster.
Don’t be surprised if the 49ers cut Hayne when wide receiver Jerome Simpson returns from his suspension, or when Daniel Kilgore returns from his ankle injury.
2. WR DeAndrew White
Two undrafted rookies made the final roster: Hayne, and wide receiver DeAndrew White.
White was fantastic during OTAs and minicamp, the portion of the offseason when players practice in shorts and the game resembles touch football. White was one of the best touch football players on the team.
But when the players put on pads during training camp, White didn’t do much for a couple of weeks. He seemed overwhelmed by the physicality of NFL players.
And during the first three preseason games, White made only two catches for three yards. He seemed like a minicamp sensation who was about to get the ax. But he went crazy during the final exhibition game, catching three passes for 77 yards and returning three punts for 70 yards.
There’s no question White is one of the most explosive players on the team. He may return punts instead of Hayne.
3. ILB Shayne Skov
The 49ers signed former Stanford inside linebacker Shayne Skov as an undrafted free agent last year and his own college coach, Jim Harbaugh, cut him. Skov spent the 2014 season on the 49ers’ practice squad.
But he played well this offseason during OTAs, minicamp and training camp. It was clear he was moving better than he had in 2014. He finally seems recovered from the ACL tear he suffered in 2011.
During the preseason, Skov was one of the 49ers’ best run defenders, earning a plus 4.6 grade from Pro Football Focus — third-highest on the Niners. Nick Moody, the third-year inside linebacker Skov beat out, earned a grade of plus 4.0.
Moody is a better athlete than Skov, which means Moody is better in man-to-man coverage. But Moody played safety in college, and Skov has played inside linebacker his whole life. Skov is far superior at stopping the run.
And a run-stopper is what the Niners need on running downs, because they won’t use their inside linebackers much in pass coverage. On passing downs, the Niners will play six defensive backs and just one inside linebacker — NaVorro Bowman. Moody, who’s better at pass coverage than playing the run, became expendable.
4. DL Tony Jerod-Eddie
Since the 49ers signed Tony Jerod-Eddie as an undrafted free agent in 2012, he has appeared in 32 games and recorded exactly no sacks.
Last season, he played 426 snaps and earned a minus 9.5 run-defense grade from Pro Football Focus. He was consistent. He stunk against the run and the pass.
He seemed like a lock to get cut after the Niners signed defensive tackle Darnell Dockett this offseason. Dockett, 34, has recorded 40.5 sacks in his career. He’s proven.
But Dockett missed most of the offseason due to an ACL tear he suffered last August. He did participate during most of training camp but missed the final preseason game with an injured rib.
Rather than waiting on Dockett’s rib to heal, the Niners gave his roster spot to Jerod-Eddie, who’s young and healthy. This is a controversial move.
5. LB Ahmad Brooks
On August 26, the Santa Clara District Attorney’s Office charged starting outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks with sexual battery. Brooks allegedly groped an unconscious woman in a “sexual manner” at former teammate Ray McDonald’s house on December 15.
Immediately after the district attorney filed charges, the Niners sent Brooks home — they were in Denver practicing with the Broncos at the time. Brooks did not play in the final two exhibition games.
At first, it seemed San Francisco might plan on keeping Brooks away from the team until his court case ended, but now it seems the Niners planned on keeping him away only during meaningless preseason games.
Saturday afternoon, a reporter asked Tomsula if he expects Brooks to play in the season opener next Monday night against the Minnesota Vikings. “Yes, I do,” Tomsula said.
Translation: We absolutely need Brooks, and probably can’t beat the Vikings without him.
It’s a case of 49ers morality taking a back seat to sheer, screaming, over-arching necessity.
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.