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49ers 90-in-90: WR Aaron Burbridge

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Breaking down the 90 players on the 49ers offseason roster in 90 posts (over 90 or so days). Today is wide receiver Aaron Burbridge.

Aaron Burbridge came to the San Francisco 49ers as a sixth round pick and one of the better pickups in 2016. Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook was considered a decent quarterback prospect in the draft, and someone had to catch the ball for him: that’s where Burbridge came in.

For a sixth round pick, Burbridge wasn’t horrible in 2016, though his numbers in Chip Kelly’s offense may not impress: seven catches, 88 yards in 16 targets. He also had a lone fumble which probably didn’t help him much. 2017 was a scratch as Burbridge was sent to injured reserve before the season began.

There was a lot to get excited about with Burbridge, but things are much different. He’s been injured for a year, and anything he showed you had promise attached to it, but nothing guaranteed. His prospect years are over and now he has to find a way to contribute and the 49ers wide receiver corps is deeper than it’s ever been.

Basic info

Age: 24
Experience: One accrued season
Height: 6’1
Weight: 208 pounds

Cap Status

He is entering the third year of his four-year rookie deal with a 2017 salary of $630,000

Why he might improve in 2018

Burbridge has had a year to study Shanahan’s playbook and two years at the NFL level overall. 2018 may be the time he gets to put it all together and begin production akin to his final year at Michigan State (85 catches, 1258 yards). Given that Burbridge didn’t really wow anyone besides show his initial promise, the sky is the limit for him in 2018. Burbridges biggest problem has been separation. In 2016, he seemed to fight for every inch to make a catch, with most resulting in dives and little yards after catch. You can’t have that in the NFL as often as he had it. If Burbridge’s speed has improved and he’s no longer blanketed by the opposing secondaries, it would be a step up from his 2016 game.

Why he might regress in 2018

Given that he spent his entire 2017 on IR and in 2016 he was just ‘there’ despite his displayed promise, Burbridge may have hit his ceiling and is coming in for one crack at the new wide receiver corps. NFL defenses do nothing but get faster, and they can easily blanket Burbridge in an instant. What he displayed—or lack thereof— before his trip to IR in 2017 wasn’t anything that had us guessing he’d return with a vengeance to the roster either.

Odds of making the roster

Burbridge makes for excellent depth, but there’s only so many mouths to feed with the wide receivers now. Kyle Shanahan drafted both Dante Pettis and Richie James and has had strong production last year from Kendrick Bourne and Trent Taylor. Don’t forget the returning Pierre Garçon. With several others waiting in the wings, it doesn’t look good for Burbridge. He has a shot, but it’s a very very long one.