On Thursday, the San Francisco 49ers officially introduced their new general Manager, John Lynch and head coach, Kyle Shanahan. With the new regime in place, they will be wasting no time beginning to rebuild the roster. John Lynch was an elite safety during his playing days, and Shanahan is one of the brightest and innovative offensive minds the game has to offer, so I feel confident this duo will be able to identify and acquire talent on both sides of the ball, that fit their vision, identity, and philosophy.
One of the biggest needs the team will look to address this offseason is wide receiver. It’s been quite some time since the 49ers had a true number one wide receiver. Terrell Owens is the last one that comes to mind. In my opinion, after the quarterback position, wide receiver is the most pressing need the team must address.
There will be some potential free agents the 49ers can sign, and with their estimated $87 million in cap space, the 49ers can do some offseason shopping if they so choose. Here is a short list of potential free agents the team can target. Please note, anyone could be in play with the Franchise Tag.
Alshon Jeffery (26, Chicago Bears)
Pierre Garcon (30, Washington)
DeSean Jackson (30, Washington)
Kenny Britt (28, Los Angeles Rams)
Kamar Aiken (27, Baltimore Ravens)
Michael Floyd (27, New England Patriots)
Anquan Boldin (36, Detroit Lions)
Brandon LeFell (30, Cincinnati Bengals)
Ted Ginn Jr. (31, Carolina Panthers)
Vincent Jackson (34, Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Kendall Wright (27, Tennessee Titans)
Cordarrelle Patterson (25, Minnesota Vikings)
Brian Quick (27, Los Angeles Rams)
Andre Holmes (28, Okland Raiders)
Robert Woods (24, Buffalo Bills)
Jeremy Kerley (28, San Francisco 49ers)
With the NFL Scouting Combine quickly approaching the team will be keeping an eye on many of the key wide receiver prospects eligible for the 2017 NFL Draft. I would think the 49ers will be investing at least one selection, and most likely a high selection on a wide receiver. Below are my Top six wide receivers heading into the combine.
Thinking of a prospect who didn't make this list? Please share in the comments below!
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1) Mike Williams, WR - Clemson: 6’3” 225 lbs. 40 Time: 4.48
2016 Stats: 98 Receptions, 1,361 yards, 11 Touchdowns.
Perhaps the most physically gifted receiver this draft class has to offer. Mike Williams had a productive season for the Clemson Tigers, and was a major contributor in their quest for a national championship against Alabama. Williams’ best qualities include his hands, ball tracking, and outboxing cornerbacks with a clean vertical jump to those 50/50 balls. Plays fearless, especially when contesting for balls directly up the middle. Williams can line up anywhere along the line of scrimmage. Williams has demonstrated on multiple occasions his ability to be a deep threat and also move the chains on those short and intermediate passes.
In almost every game this season, Williams bailed Clemson out in third and short situations, running clean slant routes and tracking the ball down. Williams isn't the fastest receiver in this draft class, but he still has a quick jump off the line, and his yards after reception have gotten noticeably better throughout his career at Clemson.
Williams has reliable hands, however it was interesting to note that in the second half the season he had some drops, especially in the red zone. While he has the frame and physicality of a number one receiver he will need to continue to commit himself more as a run-blocker. Not the cleanest route runner, but has made drastic improvements since his freshman season. Williams also suffered a horrific neck injury in last season’s opening game. The good news is that both physically and mentally he has moved past it, having an outstanding and healthy senior season. Williams is coachable, has strong leadership skills, and has the physical traits to be a WR1 at the next level. He has been compared to Megatron (Calvin Johnson)…Not a Bad comparison!
Draft Projection: 1st Round (Top 15 Pick)
2) Corey Davis, WR - Western Michigan: 6’3”, 205 lbs. 40 Time: 4.52
2016 Stats: 97 Receptions, 1,500 yards, 19 Touchdowns
The Mid-American Conference Offensive Player of the year recipient had yet another elite season for the Broncos of Western Michigan. Played all four seasons and was very comfortable with a heavy target load. Was considered one of the best ball-tracking, deep threat receivers in the country. Davis is explosive after the catch, and is dangerous in open field. He is at his best running intermediate and deep routes. Davis has improved upon his route tree, and uses a blend of speed on different routes to throw off and confuse defenders. He bails out his quarterback on multiple occasions, reeling in overthrown passes, and passes thrown behind him. Has a springboard in his feet, and isn't afraid to contest for the 50/50 balls in one-to-one coverage with defenders.
Davis is a magnet for the football, and was one of the most targeted receivers in college football history. Davis will need to improve upon working out of the slot, and seems to be more effective out-wide. Will need to continue to work on his blocking in run designs and packages. Lastly, there will be questions about the level of competition he played against at Western Michigan in the MAC Conference. However, that should not scare teams away from this future first round selection. I will note that Davis is currently nursing an ankle injury that will keep him from running the 40 at the upcoming combine. Overall, Davis is a rare athlete, with the physical traits to be a future WR1 at the next level. Davis and Mike Williams are so close it is almost a toss up on who could be the selected first.
Draft Projection: 1st Round (Top 25 Pick)
3) John Ross, WR - Washington: 5’11, 190 lbs. 40 Time: 4.50
2016 Stats: 81 Receptions, 1,150 yards, 17 Touchdowns
A dangerous and shifty deep-threat receiver who can take the top off of a defense. Ross is explosive off the line, and is able to create separation from defenders, especially in man coverage. Ross can also contribute on special teams as a kickoff returner. In his three years playing for the Huskies, Ross has returned at least one touchdown on special teams. Because of the separation he is able to generate, Ross creates generous throwing windows for the quarterback, especially on the intermediate and deep throws.
Ross is at his best when lining up in the slot, and excels in slant routes and fade routes, especially in the red-zone. Hands are reliable and solid. Ross is undersized and will need to add more weight to his frame as he gets ready to play at the next level. Has shown difficulty completing against more physical cornerbacks. My biggest issue concerning Ross is his injury history to both his knees including a brutal ACL injury to his left knee in the beginning of 2015. Because of these injuries, and him being undersized, his durability will have to be closely monitored. However, his skill set, speed, and explosive potential make him one of the best wide receivers in the upcoming draft.
Draft Projection: 1st-2nd Round
4) JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR - USC: 6’2”, 215 lbs. 40 Time: 4.48
2016 Stats: 90 Receptions, 914 Yards, 10 Touchdowns.
A reliable, consistent target, with physical traits and size. Plays a tough and physical brand of football, and fights for every jump ball against defenders in man coverage. Smith-Schuster was one of the better receivers in the country playing in zone-coverage. Tracks the ball very well, and brings in the pass with his reliable hands. Uses his frame to outbox and beat defenders to the incoming pass. Works well on the outside and over the middle, and plays fearless, willing to take a hit. Has tremendous field vision, especially after the catch, and is able to gain additional yardage. Has quick feet and burst, and can elude defenders in the open field to gain additional YAC.
One of his more underrated qualities is his ability to block. This is a strong quality of his that will only continue to get better at the next level. His ability to block is something that should entice scouts and evaluators. Earlier in his career at USC Smith-Schuster showed the ability to return kicks and will most likely be able to do so on special teams at the next level. He will need to improve upon creating more separation from defenders, especially on the outside. While he hit double digits in touchdowns scored, eight of his ten touchdowns came in three games. This shows me that he was certainly hot and cold throughout the season. Smith-Schuster came best viewed as a possession receiver, with reliable hands, and strong physical traits. An early day two selection seems to be where he is at the moment. The arrow is pointing up.
Draft Projection: 2nd Round
5) Cooper Kupp, WR - Eastern Washington: 6’1”, 198 lbs. 40 Time: 4.57
2016 Stats: 117 Receptions, 1,700 yards, 17 Touchdowns
At this point in the process Cooper Kupp is the receiver who continues to shoot up draft boards at a fast rate. A receiver with a quick burst off the line and reliable hands, who is able to beat out cornerbacks in man coverage for contested balls, especially on the deep routes. Tracks the ball very well, and runs smooth routes, especially on intermediate and deep throws. Plays with swagger and confidence. Love his willingness to compete against the more physical cornerbacks, and never gives up on any pass thrown his way. Kupp has strong hands, and has excellent ball security, even after taking hits.
Like Smith-Shuster, Kupp will need to continue to work on creating separation. While he has a good burst, at times he gets tangled up with cornerbacks on the line. I question if Kupp will be able to play on the outside at the next level or if he will be more strictly utilized in the slot. His stock keeps rising, and at this moment he looks to be a day two selection.
Draft Projection: 2nd-3rd Round
6) Curtis Samuel, RB-WR - Ohio State: 5’11, 197 lbs. 40 Time: 4.44
2016 WR Stats: 74 Receptions, 865 yards, 7 Touchdowns
Samuel was extremely productive at Ohio State, and his playmaking abilities both as a receiver and a running back make him a great fit in a Kyle Shanahan offense. It would be intriguing to see him mix things up with Carols Hyde, as well as lining up as a receiver. Has quick feet and can change direction on a dime. Has explosive vertical-line speed which makes him a dangerous deep threat. In addition, he is effective on the line, scooping up the short passes, and moving the chains. After the catch, Samuel only gets faster, and can elude defenders in open space. Plays his best against strong competition, and gets better and better as the game moves along.
Samuel is a kick-return specialist, and can be a threat on special teams. Samuel needs to work on his blocking both as as a receiver and a running back. Samuel gets caught up on the line, and will need to improve upon breaking away from the defender. Overall, there is a lot I like about Samuel’s game, and I really hope the 49ers take a long look at him during the combine, Pro Day, and workouts. Samuel is a day two selection at this time.
Draft Projection: 2nd-3rd Round
On The Outside Looking In
Dede WestBrook, WR - Oklahoma: 6’0”, 175 lbs.
2016 Stats: 80 Receptions, 1,524 yards, 17 touchdowns
Draft Projection: 3rd Round
2016 Stats: 158 Receptions, 1,746 Yards, 8 Touchdowns
Draft Projection: 3rd Round
Isaiah Ford, WR, Virginia Tech: 6’2”, 187 lbs. 40 Time: 4.53
2016 Stats: 79 Receptions, 1,094 yards, 7 Touchdowns
Draft Projection: 3rd-4th Round
Malachi Dupre, WR - LSU: 6’3”, 190 lbs. 40 Time: 4.55
2016 Stats: 41 Receptions, 593 Yards, 3 Touchdowns
Draft Projection: 4th Round