The San Francisco 49ers have had bad luck at the wide receiver position for ... well, for some time. They’ve had the most luck with veteran pickups in the vein of Anquan Boldin, and even going back to Isaac Bruce for a short time. But as far as drafting players, they’ve been fairly poor at it.
It hasn’t been a point of focus in free agency either, save for when they acquired Torrey Smith, and that signing turned out to be a bust. Smith may have some potential and he may go on to do great things, but he was never a fit for what the 49ers were doing and was eventually out-performed by an afterthought pickup in Jeremy Kerley.
Kerley led the 49ers in receiving yards a season ago, with just 667 yards and three touchdowns. Quinton Patton was second on the team with 37 receptions for 408 yards, and under-performing tight ends Vance McDonald and Garrett Celek were next. Smith came in at just 267 yards, while Rod Streater managed 191 of them.
DeAndre Smelter caught a pass for 23 yards, but that’s all they saw of him. Bruce Ellington was a non-factor due to injuries and wasn’t really a contributor previously anyway, and Patton didn’t look good enough to really keep around. The 49ers truly are bad at drafting the position.
Going into free agency, they needed to make some changes. It was a stagnant position with several players who should be considered third- or fourth-string players.
First, the 49ers parted ways with Smith. He finished his 49ers career having accomplished very little, but it’s not necessarily surprising given the lacking play of 49ers quarterbacks. Then, they extended Kerley, who wound up being a strong value pickup last season.
They were just getting started there, however. They went big on the free agent market, first picking up Marquise Goodwin, formerly of the Buffalo Bills. Goodwin is a very fast player and a deep threat with a high ceiling, effectively filling the Smith role at a fraction of the cost.
Then they went after Pierre Garcon, a player who I know the team was interested in the last time he was on the open market. Garcon isn’t a great No. 1 receiver, but he occasionally plays to that level and is a No. 2 guy at worst. A starting group of Garcon, Goodwin and Kerley with some other bodies thrown in started looking pretty good.
But the position is hardly settled. Goodwin has a high ceiling but hasn’t done much in his short time in the NFL. The young guys are all big question marks and the new regime hasn’t yet proved to be a massive failure at drafting wide receivers.
Smart money is on them drafting at least one of them. I wouldn’t rule out them drafting one high, but they’ll definitely get one in the later rounds. The roster is going to change a whole lot more as a result of Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch, and only time will tell if it changes for the better.
It will be incredibly interesting to see what happens with Goodwin, who received middling quarterback play in Buffalo, which is more than Smith could say. It will also be interesting to see what Garcon has left to show at this point in his career.
Below, we’re going to look at some of the draft prospects — a very quick look of some of the top prospects and some of the later round prospects.
Mike Williams, Clemson: Williams is one of the top receivers in the draft and is considered a consensus first-round pick. He’s a massive receiver with sure hands and reminds me most of Calvin Johnson. He may not be much of an option at No. 2 overall, but if the 49ers move back, it could get interesting.
John Ross, Washington: The man who broke Chris Johnson’s combine 40-yard dash time. Ross was already considered a potential late-first-round pick, but now it’s all but guaranteed he won’t make it out of the first round.
Corey Davis, Western Michigan: A great route-runner with the best hands of anyone in the draft, Davis is one of the safest picks in the first round. He’d fit well in Kyle Shanahan’s offense, as far as I’m concerned.
Curtis Samuel, Ohio State: This guy is intriguing for a lot of reasons. He’s a combination running back and wide receiver, but he’ll play more receiver in the NFL. With a creative offensive mind, Samuel could be incredibly dangerous. But these in-between players are always risky and I’m not sure I’m comfortable with a first-round pick being spent on him.
K.D. Cannon, Baylor: Moving on to some later-round selections, Cannon is a favorite of mine. He caught 87 passes for 1,215 yards in 2016 and is a great all-around weapon. He’s shifty, and looks a lot like a more polished Bruce Ellington.
Ricky Seals-Jones, Texas A&M: This guy interests me ... he’s a monster of a receiver (6’5, 243 pounds), a size mismatch for any cornerback in the league. But he was injured a bit in 2016, and only had 26 receptions as a result. He entered the draft in 2017, while many thought he should have played another season to improve his draft stock. If he’s there in the fifth round, I’d be interested in him.
Zach Pascal, Old Dominion: Pascal had 65 receptions for 946 yards and nine touchdowns in 2016, and was a star for Old Dominion. I feel like he has a very high ceiling, and has good size to go with his exceptional speed.
Taywan Taylor, Western Kentucky: The last guy I’ll look at was stupidly productive for Western Kentucky a season ago, with 1,730 yards and 17 touchdowns. He’s got good size, good speed and will likely be around in the fifth or sixth round.