Kendrick Bourne was not a top prospect coming out of college. He wasn't even the best wide receiver at tiny Eastern Washington University; that would be Cooper Kupp, who was drafted in the 3rd round by the Los Angeles Rams and racked up 869 yards in his rookie season.
But Bourne and Kupp were the most productive receiving duo in FCS history, and both shined as NFL rookies despite the leap in the competition that they faced. After nearly getting cut over being late for a practice, Bourne knuckled down (with extra coaching from Niners coaches Mike Lafleur and Katie Sowers) and became a reliable target, especially for Jimmy Garoppolo in the last five games.
His hot streak has continued this off-season, impressing coach Shanahan, Garoppolo and various reporters with his hard work and sure hands at OTAs and mini-camp.
Age: 22 (turns 23 on August 4, 2018)
Experience: 1 accrued season
Cap Status: Bourne signed a low-ball UDFA contract with a $5,000 signing bonus. Five thousand. He makes $555,000 this year and none of it is guaranteed, so the Niners keep all of it if they cut him.
Why he might regress in 2018
Bourne picked an ideal team to break into the NFL with last year, as San Francisco was very talent-thin and then suffered multiple injuries. There’s a lot more competition this year, with Trent Taylor’s success, Pierre Garcon returning from injury and the selection of Dante Pettis in the second round. And Bourne’s 4.68 40-yard dash time scares no cornerbacks.
After racking up 85 yards on 4 receptions against the Tennessee Titans on December 17, Bourne faded the final two weeks even as Garoppolo clicked and the Rams sat their starters in the final game. He caught just 3 of 10 targets for 40 yards in those two games combined, which is not a good sign going forward.
Why he might improve in 2018
He has good size at 6’1”, 203, which is about as big a wide receiver as the Niners have (along with the underachieving Aaron Burbridge and much-skinnier Dante Pettis. And no, I’m not considering Max McCaffery, who has one reception for four yards in two NFL seasons, bouncing between six different teams.)
Bourne got a late start last year due to the NFL’s now-defunct rule blocking players who hadn’t graduated yet from participating in team drills, and didn’t catch a pass until November. His success after that, including this off-season, suggests he has not yet hit his ceiling.
Odds of making the team
The top four wide receivers seem set: Pierre Garçon, Marquise Goodwin, Dante Pettis, and Trent Taylor. Bourne’s probably competing with Aldrick Robinson, Aaron Burbridge and Richie James for a final WR spot. (I’m assuming that Victor Bolden Jr.’s suspension knocks him out of the running.)
Robinson and Burbridge have been unimpressive, and Richie James, though talented, is fighting the entrenched Trent Taylor for the slot receiver position. It won’t be a cakewalk, but Bourne is the mostly likely of the four to end up on the roster, given his size and hustle.