Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Shanahan looking for a receiver to step up, shares why 49ers weren’t aggressive with Julio Jones

Jun 9, 2021 at 2:30 PM--

It's pretty clear who will be the starting wideouts for the San Francisco 49ers. Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel currently sit atop the depth chart. Fans are curious who will be the team's third receiver. It turns out, head coach Kyle Shanahan is curious too and is hoping someone steps up during training camp.

Following a couple of injuries on Monday, San Francisco canceled the remainder of its offseason program, including next week's minicamp. Players won't return to the practice field until training camp at the end of July. That's when the real competition at wide receiver begins.

"I think we've got a number of candidates who can earn that spot you're talking about," Shanahan told reporters this afternoon when asked about the receiver depth. "We're looking for the obvious third spot, with what you say about Aiyuk and Deebo. But those guys, they've got to put in a good camp and get through it healthy, so we can get them up to play up to their potential. That's mainly allowing them to get a month of practice in, which would be great for them in training camp. And if they get that, I know how good they'll be going into the season."

Samuel missed nine games last season. Aiyuk missed four. Kendrick Bourne has served as a primary backup in recent years but signed with the New England Patriots as a free agent this offseason.

"After [Aiyuk and Samuel], I've been happy with our group out there," Shanahan continued. "A number of guys have a chance to try to earn that third role, and we need a number of guys to make the roster to be ready for starting roles, in case people get hurt. It's not to where you can just pencil in those guys."

Shanahan rattled off the names of several candidates, like Richie James, who has been sidelined due to an injury. However, he is expected to be back by training camp.

"Right before he got hurt, tweaked something, I thought he was having a hell of a camp," Shanahan said. "So, I'm excited to see him come back, and some of the guys that people haven't seen yet with Jauan Jennings, who was on our practice squad last year. A guy like Mohamed Sanu, who's done a lot of things in his career. He's been having a hell of a camp. Travis (Benjamin) has been having a hell of a camp. Kevin White's been doing great.

"I know I'm missing people, but there's not a guy on our roster at receiver that doesn't have a chance to make this team. All of them, I believe, are NFL players, and [we gave all of] them a chance in OTAs to show us that. We'll see what they do in their 40 days away, and it will be a fun competition to watch. If everyone stays healthy, it's going to be a battle. It's a good problem to have, though."

The 49ers could have increased their depth with the addition of wide receiver Julio Jones. San Francisco was thought to be interested in the future Hall of Famer. A report this week from Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated stated that the Atlanta Falcons spoke with the 49ers, along with every other NFC West team. However, San Francisco never presented a real offer for Jones.

The Falcons ended up trading Jones to the Tennessee Titans. Why weren't the 49ers more aggressive in pursuing him? Maybe things would have been different had the team not surrendered future first-round picks to trade up in this year's draft for quarterback Trey Lance.

"Everyone knows the player [Jones] is, but it's not as simple as that," Shanahan explained. "You've got to build a team. It's not just year to year. You've got to build it for the future. And you just think about how hard it is going into drafts. You never know what you're going to be able to do in free agency, who you're going to lose, who you're going to be able to bring in. You've got lots of guys on one-year contracts, things like that.

"Everyone knows we don't have a first-round pick. But what happens when you don't have a second-round pick and a fourth-round pick, and you lose a number of guys in free agency, which you never can for sure count on? Then you end up going into a draft, and you've got to get six new spots, but all you have is a third- and a fifth-round pick. It's kind of tough to build your team that way and to consistently do it.

"But he's a hell of a player. He's going to definitely help Tennessee. And everyone knows how special he is, but you've got to think about the short-term and the long-term, and that's why those things are so risky for everybody."

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