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Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Previous Draft Misses Mean 49ers Can’t Afford to Count on Current Group of WRs

Levin T. Black
Apr 13, 2020 at 7:09 AM

A Super Bowl contending team has few weaknesses. The San Francisco 49ers made the Super Bowl last season with a top scoring offense and defense. Simply put, they were one of the most balanced teams in the NFL. If they want to remain on top of the NFC, they must improve at one of the most vital positions.

The 49ers have a weakness at the wide receiver position and must address it in the 2020 NFL Draft. There is potential on the roster, sure, but contending teams can't afford to count on hope and that's exactly what the 49ers receiver group is full of. It's Deebo Samuel and a bunch of depth guys who could blossom or amount to nothing.

The 49ers have to take a wide receiver early in the draft because they can't count on Dante Pettis, Jalen Hurd, or Trent Taylor for a myriad of reasons. A second-, third- and fifth-round pick was used on these receivers, respectively. Their lack of production forces the 49ers to again look at receiver.

Others on the roster, especially Kendrick Bourne, are quality depth players. They are needed, and at times will produce, but aren't starters. The 49ers are missing that second starter to line up opposite of Samuel.

Let's look at each receiver on the roster, individually. That will illuminate what the 49ers are missing.

The Reliables

Deebo Samuel (2019 Stats: 57 catches, 802 yards, 3 touchdowns)

The 49ers have one receiver who can be counted on as a starter and it's Samuel. A rookie after being drafted in the second round last year, Samuel put up some impressive numbers, especially late in the season.

He amassed more than 800 yards receiving and added 159 rushing. The 961 yards from scrimmage were second best among rookie receivers in 2019. As previously mentioned, he got better as the season progressed. When including playoffs, Samuel had 1,190 yards from scrimmage, narrowly eclipsing the Tennessee Titans' A.J. Brown for the most of any rookie receiver.

Yet, despite all of Samuel's strengths, he still lacks in one department, getting separation on deep routes. Among the 46 receivers who had at least 50 catches in 2019, Samuel ranked 41st in average air yards per target (distance ball traveled in air only, no YAC). It was the biggest knock on him in the draft process so it was to be expected.

Samuel is elite with the ball in his hands, is elite on short underneath routes, and demonstrates the ability to avoid press coverage consistently, but doesn't have the burst to get behind a defense.

Overall, he's a very good receiver who could become a Pro Bowler as soon as this season but is deficient in the one area.

Kendrick Bourne (2019 Stats: 30 catches, 358 yards, 5 touchdowns)

At this point Bourne is what he is. He's a safe reliable backup to both outside receiver positions but not a starter. He's an ideal fourth receiver on a contending team. If a team has two outside starters, one slot receiver and then Bourne, they probably have a pretty talented core.

Bourne does a lot of things adequately but only one thing at an exceptional level. Bourne is phenomenal in the red zone. All five of his 2019 touchdowns came in that short 20-yard area. Furthermore, of the 22 players with at least five red zone touchdowns last season, Bourne had the fewest opportunities. He scored those five touchdowns on just six total targets. He saw 8.5 percent of the team's red zone targets, lowest among the 22 players.

Bourne can make a spectacular catch but also is prone to an inexplicable drop far too often. That is part of what keeps him from being a starter.

The Unreliables

Trent Taylor (2019 Stats: Did not play)

Injuries. Injuries. Injuries. Taylor looked like the ideal slot receiver for the 49ers as a rookie in 2017 but has been hampered by injuries ever since.

He didn't play a down in 2019 after suffering a fractured fifth metatarsal in his foot. He had surgery in August, with an expectation of returning in the first half the season. Complications didn't allow that. Taylor ended up needing multiple surgeries and had to fight off an infection at one point as well.

All of this follows a disappointing 2018 season following a back injury. Taylor looked nothing like what he did as a rookie in 2017. He had 26 catches and averaged just 8.3 yards per reception in 2018.

Will Taylor have a resurgence in his fourth season, will he even resemble his former self after so multiple surgeries? It's anyone's guess. Getting the 2017 version of Taylor seems unlikely and should be seen as a potential bonus rather than something the 49ers need.

He'll be given a chance to prove himself in training camp in 2020. He'll either return to form or be cut.

Jalen Hurd (2019 Stats: Did not play)

No better way to describe Hurd's rookie season than a nightmare. So much potential, so much intrigue all dismantled due to a stress fracture in his back. Everyone is left to wonder what could have been following his two touchdown preseason game.

Making matters worse, Hurd's injury did not heal. The 49ers kept believing Hurd could return at some point in 2019 but it never manifested. As of last update in late February, Hurd has still not been medically cleared although the 49ers said they believed Hurd would be ready for the now cancelled April offseason program.

There have been rumors that Hurd will never be able to play, that his back injury will make it too risky. So far, that's just speculation. Even if he can play, will he have the same elite caliber athleticism or will he be robbed of it like Taylor was in 2018?

Hurd is another receiver from whom any production in 2020 should be viewed as a bonus by the 49ers.

Dante Pettis (2019 Stats: 11 catches, 109 yards, 2 touchdowns)

Enigma is all that comes to mind when thinking about Pettis. In training camp he showed the ability to get free releases and even impressed cornerback Richard Sherman. He was also inconsistent on his routes.

Pettis has a true No. 1 receiver ceiling. His floor has been lowered to the basement. No one can quite put his or her finger on what the problem is for Pettis. What made head coach Kyle Shanahan call him out by name, what made him fall so deep into Shanahan's doghouse that he barely saw the field in the second half of the 2019 season?

It could be that he reportedly didn't add the muscle the team wanted him to in the offseason in order to improve as a blocker. Or it could be, he loses concentration causing his routes to not be what they need to be. Or it could be that he dances around too much at the snap in order to avoid getting jammed that it throws off the all important timing of Shanahan's offensive system.

Whatever it is, Pettis could get moved this offseason if the 49ers find a buyer or he could get one more chance to fulfill his potential. Either way, he can't be counted on like he was prior to the 2019 season. His fall last season is why the 49ers had to trade for Emmanuel Sanders.

Marquise Goodwin (12 catches, 186 yards, 1 touchdown)

Like Pettis, the well-compensated Marquise Goodwin fell flat in 2019. Paid like starter, Goodwin has had back-to-back disappointing seasons after signing a three year extension worth $20.3 million.

Goodwin has had a lot of things happen in his personal life that could have understandably affected his play (no idea if it truly did). The NFL is a business and the 49ers simply can't afford a $4.9 million cap hit for 12 catches.

The 49ers can save $3.65 million by releasing Goodwin and many are surprised the team hasn't already. I suspect the 49ers are hoping to include him in a draft day trade in order to save the full $4.9 million. If that doesn't come to fruition, I'd be shocked if Goodwin wasn't released in the days following the draft.

Richie James Jr. (6 catches, 165 yards, 1 touchdown)

Richie James Jr. is a quality special teams returner but not an elite one. This is why his spot on the roster in 2020 is in jeopardy. If the 49ers find a player who can return and see the field at a position, James will likely not make the team.

James does show flashes as a receiver. He doesn't block well enough and consistency is an issue.

Still, he shouldn't be counted out completely. He is one of the best athletes the team has at receiver and he could reach a new level with a second offseason to improve. Again, that improvement, if it comes, should be seen as a bonus rather than something the 49ers count on.

NOTE: Chris Thompson and Shawn Pointdexter are on the roster currently but only due to roster expansion. They will not make the 53-man roster and aren't included in this breakdown.


The 49ers receiver group is decent as it is but is clearly missing a player who can excel at the intermediate to deep routes the Shanahan offense features heavily. It has a receiver who can serve as a true go-to in Samuel, it has a quality backup in Bourne and it has plenty of high-end potential with Taylor, Hurd and Pettis.

Nothing groundbreaking here, but expect the 49ers to target a receiver who can play on the outside and get separation on deep routes. Pay close attention to a prospect's run blocking ability. Shanahan values that more than most due to his run heavy attack.

The only thing certain is that the 49ers need a starting quality receiver opposite of Samuel if they want to remain the favorite in the NFC.
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.


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