Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Jordan Matthews is in an excellent spot to crack 49ers’ 53-man roster in 2019

Jul 2, 2019 at 3:49 PM--

When the San Francisco 49ers selected Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd in the 2019 NFL Draft, veteran wide receiver Jordan Matthews seemed to be on the periphery amid a deep position group. But that no longer seems to be the case heading towards training camp.

The San Francisco 49ers struggled at wide receiver last year, with two-year pro Kendrick Bourne leading this group with a mere 487 receiving yards in 2018.

So it shouldn't be much of a surprise the Niners made a lot of moves to shake up the position, including signing 26-year-old veteran wide receiver Jordan Matthews to a one-year, $2 million deal with only $300,000 fully guaranteed. For San Francisco, it was a low-risk, potentially high-reward move. While Matthews had been highly productive his first three seasons in the league with the Philadelphia Eagles, his last two years with both Philly and the Buffalo Bills netted a combined 582 receiving yards and three touchdowns.

One could argue Matthews' 2017 campaign in Buffalo wasn't a good fit, considering the Bills' run-heavy approach that year. And upon his return to the Eagles last year, he was something of an afterthought.

Still, when the 49ers drafted rookie wideouts Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd in Rounds 2 and 3, respectively, it wasn't too hard to see why Matthews was immediately on the bubble.

But the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Matthews made more than a handful of splashes during organized team activities and minicamp, quickly establishing a rapport with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and even having a slightly hilarious moment in a touchdown celebration, according to The Athletic's Matt Barrows:

"Jordan has a wingspan like seven feet or something; it's insane," Garoppolo told reporters following one of the team's practices earlier this offseason. "You think you miss him on a pass and he'll make you look good as a receiver, so you love that."

Sixteen of Matthews' 22 career touchdowns have come within the red zone -- an area in which San Francisco struggled last season and finished dead last in touchdown efficiency.

Matthews' catch radius and big frame are plus attributes here. Those, combined with the so-far strong standouts during practices, suggest the veteran isn't quite in danger of being on the roster bubble.

"I think he's gotten better each year in this league just studying him," head coach Kyle Shanahan added. "I think his skill set adds something to our group. He's a bigger receiver who has good hands, very smart receiver and he also can run."

It wouldn't be a shock to see Matthews serve not only on the outside, but as a bigger slot. Shanahan alluded to this, too.

"Most of the slot players I've played with are shorter guys who are a little quicker and things like that who can separate inside," the head coach continued. "But I mean, one of the best slot players I had was Mohamed Sanu, who was the exact opposite of that."

Sanu is a mere inch shorter than Matthews and the same weight.

There's a good chance Matthews' primary competition in training camp will be Bourne, who also emerged as something of a red-zone weapon the past two seasons, albeit not quite an impressive one, given the team's struggles there. But the true test for both wideouts, and ultimately determining who winds up making the 53-man roster by Week 1, will ultimately come down to which player thrives when the pads come on in training camp.

Camp officially starts on Friday, July 26.

Previously looked at as a contingency plan if San Francisco was unable to get the receivers it wanted in the NFL Draft, Matthews is now looking like he'll be a strong contender to stay high on the depth chart entering the regular season.
  • Written by:
    Peter Panacy has been writing about the 49ers since 2011 for outlets like Bleacher Report, Niner Noise, 49ers Webzone, and is occasionally heard as a guest on San Francisco's 95.7 FM The Game and the Niners' flagship station, KNBR 680. Feel free to follow him, or direct any inquiries to his Twitter account.

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