That isn’t normal.
Of the 32 teams in the NFL, only one, the Niners, selected a running back in the first three rounds two years in a row. Had the duo been complementary backs, then that would be one thing, as plenty of teams draft an interior rusher one year and then go back for a third-down specialist in the future, but that wasn’t the route John Lynch decided to go, as the duo of Sermon and Davis-Price could theoretically be used more or less interchangeably.
Did the 49ers simply realize that Sermon wasn’t going to be their guy moving forward and opt to pick Davis-Price as the long-term running mate for Elijah Mitchell, another 2021 draftee? Or was Davis-Price simply the best player on the board when the 93rd pick came on the clock, and Lynch opted to go best player available?
During his post-draft media availability, Lynch played down any suggestions that the team had too many running backs, declaring that there was “plenty of room for these guys,” but ultimately, that assertion proved false. With a clear need on the offensive line, the team claimed guard Blake Hance off of waivers from the Cleveland Browns and released Sermon to free up a roster spot.
Had Sermon performed better as a rookie, maybe he would have made the cut but then again, had Lynch invested one of those two third-round picks on a guard like Spencer Brown, maybe they wouldn’t have had to look to the waiver wire for additional depth too.
How Did Sermon Land With the 49ers?
Originally drafted in the third round of the 2021 NFL draft following an impressive run in Oklahoma and then Ohio State that saw the Marietta, Georgia native compile 2,946 combined yards on 455 carries and 26 touchdowns, Sermon was lauded for his power but knocked for his vision by Lance Zierlein of NFL.com, garnering a third-fourth round grade on his pre-draft evaluation.
Still, this didn’t dissuade John Lynch from selecting Sermon 88th overall. Sure, Sermon wasn’t Najee Harris or Javonte Williams, but the 49ers had established themselves as one of the premier rushing teams in the NFL under Kyle Shanahan with a variety of different rushers from Raheem Mostert to Jeff Wilson. Why not give the second-generation head coach a top-tier running back to pair with his new franchise quarterback and elevate that attack for years to come?
Fortunately, the 2021 NFL draft did ultimately land the Niners a new lead rusher. Unfortunately for Sermon, that player was Elijah Mitchell, the Louisiana product who was drafted 106 picks later but finished out the season with 796 more yards.
The Writing Was on the Wall for Sermon
Heading into the summer of 2022, Sermon was widely considered a longshot to make the Niners’ 53-man roster.
Despite saying goodbye to Mostert in free agency, Lynch replaced him with Davis-Price, the big, bruising back out of LSU who graded out as Pro Football Focus’ best pass-blocking back. Factor in the presence of returning rushers Mitchell, Jeff Wilson, and Jamycal Hasty plus rookie UDFA Jordan Mason, and at best, Sermon was fighting for a spot at the bottom of the roster with no guarantee he’d actually see the field.
And yet, against all odds, Sermon actually did make the cut; Lynch decided to pull a 2017 Philadelphia Eagles and kept Mitchell, Davis-Price, Wilson, Mason, and Sermon on the active roster. Sermon would be in the team’s meetings, travel to games, and, if the injury bug were to strike, could turn in his street clothes for a uniform once more.
Certain things didn’t begin the way Sermon would have liked, but he at least wouldn’t go down as a one-year wonder and would be afforded another opportunity to prove he was the kind of player Lynch envisioned he could be.
That optimism lasted all of one day, as, in order to make room for waiver claim Hance, San Francisco waived Sermon in the hopes of hiding him on the practice squad, but that hope, unfortunately, proved short-lived. The aforementioned Eagles claimed Sermon off of waivers on September 1 after engaging with Lynch about a trade, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, and will now earn another opportunity to catch on with a team lacking in powerboats.