A long running gag for the San Francisco 49ers during the Trent Baalke regime was how he never knew how to address, nor evaluate the wide receiver position. The only pick in the first three rounds under his watch was A.J. Jenkins toward the end of the first round of the 2012 draft and that proved to be a disaster. Braylon Edwards was a flop. The trade for Stevie Johnson was awesome, until you realized a week later that they already had a Johnson-type player in Michael Crabtree and the move wasn’t really a step-up. Quinton Patton was a fan-favorite, but could never get consistency and DeAndre Smelter simply checked a box to draft a player with a knee injury. Anquan Boldin fell onto the 49ers’ laps in 2013 and filled in for the injured Crabtree, but that was the only transaction that worked outside of signing an aging Randy Moss as a decoy.
With the exception of Boldin, and possibly Moss, the 49ers could not get consistent production from the wide receiver position outside of Crabtree, who left following the 2014 season.
The 49ers then began rotating receivers around, hoping to get something to work. Torrey Smith came to the team in a lucrative free-agent deal, but busted (this can be blamed on bad coaching) and the team traded for Jeremy Kerley, who wound up with the lion’s share of yardage in 2016 with 667 yards. Every year, even with Crabtree, the team needed production out of the position and every year it was disappointing picks or ignoring things entirely.
Well, finally, FINALLY, maybe in 2019, wide receiver will not be a need. The 49ers definitely could and should look at drafting one, but it seems like they might finally have a respectable wide receiver corps.
For starters, Pierre Garçon will return, but Kendrick Bourne very well could be the heir apparent, and if not him, perhaps Dante Pettis will impress. Maybe both of them. The number one goes down? No problem, plug in Marquise Goodwin and watch him fly. Heck, he’s fast so you could try him in the slot. Well, that is if you don’t want Trent Taylor in there and his habbit of catching third down conversions or if you want to try seventh round pick Richie James and his wheels in the slot as well. In 2016 the 49ers had 2,911 passing yards, in 2017, 3925 yards. And this was without the shot in the arm Pettis and James can provide.
Two years ago when the 49ers were trying whatever they could to get the position upgraded, are now at risk of not even keeping their own current-year draft picks on the roster. They kept six wide receivers to start the season, and this year there is going to be massive competition for a roster spot. Taylor, Garçon, Goodwin, and Pettis all seem like locks. I’d probably put Bourne in that tier as well, but he’s just a step below (right now, I predict he’s in line for a great year). That leaves Richie James competing with some UDFAs and veterans like Victor Bolden Jr. and Aldrick Robinson. All the sudden, the 49ers wide receiver corps has flown in under the radar as a pretty respectable group.
They definitely are on the lookout for the No. 1 to take over from Garçon, and they may have it. Regardless, if all goes well, drafting a wide receiver in 2019 will be less of a necessity and more of a luxury.