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Have the 49ers done enough at wide receiver?

Al Sacco
May 15, 2017 at 10:11 AM1


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Anyone who watched the San Francisco 49ers in 2016 knows just how badly the franchise needed an upgrade at wide receiver. Because the position group was largely ignored by the previous regime, the depth chart was littered with players who would have a hard time cracking the roster on most other teams. With a lack of talent came a lack of production, and the numbers were excruciatingly bad across the board. When you add it all together, all of the 49ers' wideouts combined for 160 receptions, 1777 yards, and eight touchdowns. That was every receiver. In 2015 alone, Julio Jones basically equaled the output of San Francisco's entire unit, going 136/1871/8. Looking deeper, the team's leading pass catcher (Jeremy Kerley) gained a mere 667 yards. To put that in perspective, there were 63 players who finished ahead of him in that department last year. Ugly stuff.

To their credit, John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan recognized this deficiency immediately, and didn't waste any time in addressing it this offseason. In fact, with the exception of Kerley, it's likely that there will be completely new pieces across the board when 2017 kicks off. But even with all of the turnover, did the 49ers do enough to upgrade the position? That remains to be seen. Most fans seem to be excited about the players who were brought in, but are they excited about them as individuals, or does the presence of Shanahan make them appear to be a little more enticing than they really are?

The prize of San Francisco's free agent class may have been Pierre Garçon. The veteran comes to the Bay with a reputation of being a consistent performer, but rarely has he put up the type of numbers that would be considered prolific. Garçon has two 1,000-yard seasons in nine years, and has only broken 784 yards three times. He's never had more than six touchdowns, and averages about four per season. Garçon did enjoy the best campaign of his career under Shanahan while with the Washington Redskins in 2013 (113/1346/5), but that's about to be four years ago. I'm not saying Garçon isn't a good player, he is, but at 31-years-old, it makes him nothing more than a short-term placeholder as opposed to a long-term solution.

After Garçon, you'd have to say that Kerley would be next in the pecking order, and while he's a nice role player, the primary slot man's not going to scare many defenses. In six full seasons, Kerley's struggled to maintain consistency, breaking 667 yards just once (2012) and hauling in a total of 12 touchdowns. Beyond Kerley are two more role-specific additions, Marquise Goodwin and Aldrick Robinson. Both were brought in as free agents, though neither have done enough to make one think they can contribute at a high level in 2017. In 39 career games, Goodwin has 49 receptions on 111 targets (44 percent) and 780 yards. Robinson's career line is equally as underwhelming, going 50/931/7 in 52 career games (with a catch rate of 50-percent). Sorry, but two guys who basically average one catch per game should give you some pause. It also makes one think that rookie Trent Taylor has a huge opportunity to step up and earn significant playing time right away. Taylor was a monster playing the slot at Louisiana Tech, catching 235 passes for 3,085 yards and 21 touchdowns from 2015-2016.

With the presumed top-five options being Garçon, Kerley, Goodwin, Robinson and Taylor, another issue that may or may not be significant is the size factor. The only one out of the group who's over 5'10" is Garçon, and he's listed at 6'0". Could having so many small, slot type options hurt the offense? Some would say yes, and that you need a big-bodied receiver as well, while others would say that route running and scheme are much more important. It's an interesting argument, and one that won't be settled until we see how it all fits together during the season. It also remains to be seen if someone who's not necessarily on the radar right now could step up and make the roster, or even challenge the likes of Goodwin or Robinson. Holdovers Aaron Burbridge and DeAndre Smelter haven't shown much yet, but both are 6'0" and over (Smelter is 6'2") and could push the envelope with a strong camp.

It's also a distinct possibility that, beyond Garçon, the rest of the 49ers receivers are actually just role players anyway, and that a majority of the remaining targets may be directed at running backs or everyone's favorite offensive weapon, Kyle Juszczyk. In realty, this could end up being a complete team effort in terms of target distribution. That's a fair assumption given the lack of a track record for so many of San Francisco's skill position players.

As the years move on and the rebuild continues, it's a certainty that the 49ers will invest significant capital in the receiver position at some point. Whether that will be dollars or draft picks is still up in the air but, sans Taylor, this receiving group looks to be more of a Band-Aid for the next season or two while the team waits for the long-term plan to come to fruition.

Al Sacco has been covering the 49ers since 2013 and has had his work used by national outlets such as ESPN and USA TODAY. In addition to his writing duties, Al is also the co-host of the No Huddle podcast presented by 49ers Webzone. If you'd like to reach Al with a media request, please contact him via Twitter @AlSacco49
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


1 Comment

  • Mike Cortese
    This article is right on target. They do not have a great receiver among that group of wide receivers. Again this is a building year I don't expect much from this team. Heck with all the money they had to spend they let the Patriots step up and buy two of the best free agents on the market. The niners should have picked up the Buffalo defensive back Gilmore. They still need a DB and should give Sam Shields a try on a one year contract.
    May 16, 2017 at 9:53 AM
    1

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