We’ve had plenty of discussion about the emergence of the San Francisco 49ers offense since Jimmy Garoppolo was inserted at quarterback. He has helped raise the level of play around him, with Marquise Goodwin the most high profile of those performers. However, we can’t overlook the recent emergence of rookie wide receiver Kendrick Bourne.
On the season, Bourne has 13 receptions for 217 yards. Among players with at least 10 catches, his 16.7 yards per catch ranks 13th in the NFL. The numbers are not huge overall, but we have seen a positive trend for Bourne, capped by his four reception, 85-yard performance against the Tennessee Titans.
It has taken Bourne some time to get significant playing time. He was active Week 1, but then inactive Weeks 2-6. He was targeted four times total in Weeks 7 and 8, but had no receptions. However, in Week 9, he emerged with his first reception. He had two receptions for 39 yards, and since then has had at least two receptions in all but one of the following games.
The timing of Bourne’s emergence as a possible weapon is two-fold. The first is Pierre Garçon’s neck injury. Garçon suffered a season-ending neck injury in Week 8, opening the door for Bourne to get more work. Additionally, Bourne has grown more comfortable with the 49ers offense. He attended Eastern Washington University, which is on a quarter system. That meant he was unable to participate in OTAs because their finals ended during minicamp. His first real work after rookie minicamp came in training camp, which meant he was well behind the curve.
The fact that he was able to earn a roster spot and develop into a contributor in spite of that extended absence speaks well of him. Head coach Kyle Shanahan discussed his career day after the Titans game.
“Yeah, I was real happy for Kendrick. Kendrick, he got a late start here. Missing all of OTAs with his semester scheduling, came in during training camp. Was really on the outside looking in for a while, because it just took him a while to pick it up having such a late start. But, he was a guy we were scared to lose, so we kept him on our roster instead of putting him on practice squad and took him a while to get ready and then once we lost [WR] Pierre [Garçon] he had to be ready. He’s gotten better each week. He’s made some big plays for us. He did a great job today beating man coverage and made some plays after the catch. I was real happy for him. He’s been working real hard all year to get into this situation.”
Bourne was on the same team as Rams standout receiver Cooper Kupp. While Kupp got more of the praise, Bourne was a productive college receiver. Bourne has solid size and hands, but his speed was a negative on him coming out of college. He is showing he can handle his own in the NFL, and the big question now is how high his ceiling might be.
The 49ers need find a pure No. 1 receiver for the long haul. But as far as depth, with Pierre Garçon coming back next year and the emergence of Marquise Goodwin and Trent Taylor this year, Bourne as a fourth or fifth receiver is looking pretty impressive. I don’t think the 49ers are at a point where they should spend a first round pick at wide receiver. They might eventually want to do that, but for the time being, there are enough other holes to fill that I think wide receiver is for the short term actually looking a little better than expected.