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Despite criticism, why the 49ers will likely keep Trey Sermon on the 53-man roster

I don’t think the former third-round pick is going anywhere.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Houston Texans Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

Former Ohio State running back Trey Sermon has been the target of heavy criticism early in the preseason. That criticism followed him from last season when rookie Sermon didn’t perform up to the mark. The 49ers traded up in the third round to draft the Ohio State tailback, but the returns didn’t match the investment.

In his first two preseason games, Sermon rushed for less than two yards per carry — totaling 19 yards on 11 carries. Thursday night was his best performance of the preseason, carrying the ball eight times for 20 yards while forcing a missed tackle.

Sermon’s burst was more visible on Thursday. He’s been battling — and playing through — an injury, but the 49ers’ young tailback finally seemed to flash some of his talent.

While the 49ers have tried to diversify their run schemes over the past few years, I think Sermon looks far more comfortable as an inside runner between the tackles than he does running the wide zone.

The logjam at the running back position has been a hot topic of debate for 49ers fans on social media, but I think internally, the 49ers have been more confident of Sermon making this 53-man roster.

Before Thursday’s contest, here’s what 49ers’ general manager John Lynch had to say about Sermon’s roster spot:

He worked incredibly hard and had a tremendous offseason. Hasn’t showed up in the games, but throughout training camp has been one of our best players.

After this quote from Lynch, I had a feeling that the 49ers’ brass was leaning toward keeping Sermon on their roster after what he’s shown in practices and the meeting room.

I believe that three running backs have secured their roster spot: Elijah Mitchell, Jeff Wilson Jr., and Ty Davis-Price. I think JaMycal Hasty is widely viewed as one of the more complete backs on this team, who can run, catch passes, pass protect and even play special teams. That would be the four leading contenders — but I think Sermon squeaks onto the team, with Jordan Mason being released.

Sermon’s draft status as a third-round pick probably buys him an extra season with the 49ers, but it’s going to be an uphill battle to find carries with this group.