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49ers 2019 Training Camp Primer: Wide Receivers

Levin T. Black
Jul 19, 2019 at 9:00 AM


What a difference a year makes. The San Francisco 49ers enter the 2019 season with wide receivers being one of the deepest position groups on the team.

This hasn't been the case in recent seasons. The 49ers have a few veterans mixed in with a group of young, super high potential youngsters. Other position groups have led the way in the past. George Kittle emerged as a force as a tight end last season, fullback Kyle Juszczyk has been the best receiver at his position for a few years now and the running back position has multiple players known for their receiving skills.

Previously, the wide receivers had lagged behind but coming into 2019 the 49ers wideout options are so deep that last season's leading receiver is on the bubble for making the 53-man roster.

Projected to Start


Three players will be in this section. I'm considering Dante Pettis, Deebo Samuel and Marquise Goodwin as starters. All three players are capable of playing inside in the slot and outside in traditional starting spots (X and Z receivers). I fully expect head coach Kyle Shanahan to move these three around. While two will technically be the starters, they will not remain in those positions exclusively.

Which two will start? No one knows. Pettis is the only one who seems like a lock. The second-year player showed flashes in an injury-plagued rookie season and has repeatedly been praised this offseason by those around the team. You can see in the below video that Pettis has elite footwork.


In his first season he had 27 catches, 467 yards and five touchdowns. After returning from injury, he played the final six games at a 64 catch, 989 yard, 11 touchdown pace. According to Pro Football Focus, 70 percent of Pettis' receptions went for a first down or a touchdown. With an offseason to improve and some better health, he could very well be a breakout star in 2019.

Many believe rookie Samuel will be the other starter. The second-round draft pick is excellent at beating press coverage and seems well suited for the X-receiver role thanks to his physical style. This would make sense considering Pettis played in the Z-receiver position often as a rookie.

I do not consider it a lock for Samuel to be outside though. Samuel can also play the slot and is especially great after the catch. Playing in the slot would allow Samuel to run a lot of short slants, a route he is very good at, thus getting the ball in his hands early and in stride.

Neither Goodwin nor Pettis fits the physical role the X-receiver generally falls into but this is a Shanahan offense. It's all about getting guys open and getting the ball in the playmakers' hands. Shanahan isn't going to play Samuel outside exclusively just because the X-receiver is supposed to be physical. Shanahan is willing to think outside of the box. Plus, the X-receiver spot can be complicated in Shanahan's offense, which isn't easy to learn. With Samuel being a rookie, it may take a year before he is outside all the time.

Regardless of who technically starts, expect Shanahan to use motion with these three at times in order to confuse the defense. That's the benefit of having three quality receivers who can all play outside and in the slot.

Projected Safe Reserves


Third-round draft pick Jalen Hurd. That's it. He's the only one 100 percent safe from being cut. Most of you know about Hurd and his tremendous upside by now. A former running back who started and ran for 1,285 yards on a roster with Alvin Kamara in college, Hurd transferred schools in order to swap to wide receiver, which he viewed as a better option for his professional career.

There are plenty of great articles out there on Hurd already so I won't go too deep here. As a third-round pick who is an athletic freak, he will be on the team in some fashion come regular season.

There is one player here I didn't list who I believe is likely to make the roster. Third-year wide receiver Trent Taylor should make it. He had a great rookie season but struggled in his second season last year while returning from offseason surgery. All reports have said he seems to be back and working with new wide receivers coach Wes Welker has helped him improve this offseason.

While I think it is very likely he makes the 53-man roster, there does a exist a small chance of him not so I am including him in the final section.

Projected Unsafe Reserves


The aforementioned Taylor is joined by Kendrick Bourne, Jordan Matthews and Richie James here. The 49ers will keep five or six wide receivers depending on how Shanahan decides to set up his roster.

Bourne was the 49ers' leading receiver in 2018 with 487 yards. He is the safe reliable candidate. He has the most experience in Shanahan's offense having signed with the 49ers in May, 2017. He knows the system. He doesn't have the high upside others may have but Shanahan knows that if injuries happen again, Bourne can step in and play both the Z and X roles as he has done in the past.

Matthews was once a rising star. Taken in the second round in 2014, Matthews followed up a promising rookie season with an 85 catch, 997 yard, eight touchdown season with the Philadelphia Eagles. His numbers fell in his third season and fell off substantially in his fourth season after being traded to the Buffalo Bills.

He returned to the Eagles last season but didn't impress. He signed with the 49ers during the offseason in what many view as his last chance to salvage a once promising career.

Finally there is James. Seen as a late round project as a rookie last season, James failed to take advantage when so many receivers got injured. He did, however, prove to be a very good kick returner. James had a 97-yard return for a touchdown giving him one of the five kick return touchdowns in the NFL in 2018. Still, his overall average was only good for seventh in the league and kick returning is becoming less of valuable skill as the NFL seeks to suppress returns due to the frequency with which they cause concussions.

James will need to make a lot of progress as an actual receiver to have a shot. His chances of making the team are a good bit lower than Matthews and Bourne. Those two are a toss up.

Projected Cuts


The 49ers do have a few camp bodies who stand about as good of a chance of making the 53-man roster as Justin Bieber does of defeating Superman in a fair fight.

Shawn Poindexter, Max McCaffrey and Malik Henry are all on roster and will participate in training camp later this month. That technically gives them a chance but it would be a massive upset.

My Prediction


Pettis, Samuel, Goodwin, Hurd and Taylor all make it as the top five. I think that will be all initially. With running backs who can catch and the previously mentioned Kittle and Juszczyk, I see the 49ers going thin at wide receiver knowing they will likely be able to pick up Matthews and/or Bourne if needed later. I think James makes the practice squad and could be promoted if needed.

There is potential for the 49ers to get a little creative, too. If Hurd needs a lot of work having only been a receiver for one year in college, the 49ers could stash him on PUP list until midseason while keeping Matthews or Bourne.

Next: Tight Ends
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 Kenney
    Finally we’re at a point where someone we cut is a potential starter for another team. We have to have Taylor. His unique guickness is a layer of security for Garoppolo unloading in a hurry. Matthews is actually going to get a lot of work when the season starts because he’s very very good in this offense, and because Deebo won’t be ready at first. When he comes on look out. He’ll be like Anquan. Goodwin keeps the safeties honest with elite speed. When he’s on his game his routes are crisp. Real Keeper. Pettis has uncanny shake and is a YAC monster. Hurd gets time to grow into his role. The skill sets are going to drive DCs, who also have to account for Kittle and Coleman nuts. Everybody else will have to show something we don’t know about
    Jul 19, 2019 at 9:50 AM
    0

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