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Healthy Trent Taylor primed to stand out among 49ers receivers

Why the 25 year-old receiver is in a great position to separate himself from the pack

NFL: Denver Broncos at San Francisco 49ers Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Trent Taylor’s career got off to a quick, promising start in 2017. His 43 receptions were tied for 8th most among all rookies, and he began to develop solid chemistry with Garoppolo as a go-to receiver in clutch toward the end of the season.

Taylor’s stat line during that final five-game stretch of 2017 was 17 receptions, 192 yards, and one touchdown.

Outside of a 92-yard game against Chicago, the numbers are very pedestrian, but they don’t tell the whole story in this case. In many instances, the catches Taylor made were at critical points to keep drives alive and win games.

Take a handful of plays from the Titans game, for example:

1st Quarter
3rd and 4 at Titans 41
12 yd rec puts 49ers into FG territory for eventual Robbie Gould FG

2nd Quarter
3rd and 4 at Titans 40
17 yd rec puts 49ers into FG territory for eventual Robbie Gould FG

4th Quarter
3rd and 18 at Titans 22
20 yd rec puts 49ers into FG territory for eventual Robbie Gould FG
(Note: he did fumble on this play, but Laken Tomlinson recovered it)

1st and 10 at 49ers 25
Seven yd reception starts off the game-winning drive on the right foot

At the end of the day, he only had four catches for 41 yards, but three third-down conversions were integral to the 9 points San Francisco needed to beat Tennessee 25-23.

Yes, the future was looking very bright for the young wide receiver. Then, things went south in a hurry.

Taylor quickly went from chain-mover to invisible man in the 49ers offense. 2018 was derailed by the absence of Jimmy Garoppolo and lingering effects from offseason back surgery. Despite appearing in 14 games, he managed merely 26 catches, 215 yards, and one touchdown.

Now, the third-year veteran is ready to reemerge from the shadows.

The top of the Niners receiver depth chart includes Taylor, rookies Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd, second-year Dante Pettis, speedy but oft-injured Marquise Goodwin, and underachieving journeyman Jordan Matthews. Kendrick Bourne and Richie James have shown some upside, but they’re on the outside looking in; they’ll have a tough battle for a roster spot in camp.

In terms of raw talent, Deebo Samuel is probably at the top of the list. He is the highest-drafted among the receivers as the 49ers’ 36th selection this year (Pettis and Matthews were also second-round selections, but they were picked later on). Samuel is a perfect fit in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. However, the learning curve can be very steep for rookie receivers—especially in a complex offensive scheme. Furthermore, Samuel was dealing with a minor hip injury during OTA’s, so he’s already a bit behind.

Hurd faces even greater challenges as a rookie, having played only one year of his collegiate career as a wideout after converting from running back. The coaching staff will likely draw up specific plays for Hurd and use him creatively to exploit mismatches, given his versatility and pedigree as a running back.

Internal expectations are high for Dante Pettis. As it stands right now, he and Samuel are probably the odds favorites to start. Pettis’ slight frame makes durability and his ability to get off the line a concern but, then again, durability is a question that many of the Niners’ receivers face.

Taylor’s advantage over Samuel, Hurd, and Pettis is his three years of experience in the offensive system. He could very well make a push to challenge Pettis and Samuel for a starting spot. At the very least, he should figure heavily into the mix as a slot receiver. It’s already been acknowledged by Shanahan that the 49ers plan to scale back Marquise Goodwin’s role to maximize his value as a downfield threat, so that pencils him in—for the time being—as a number three or four option.

Much like Garoppolo, Taylor has a lot to prove to both himself and critics this season. The fact that the 49ers drafted two receivers and acquired Jordan Matthews has to have put a sizable chip on his shoulder. The increased competition, combined with full recovery from that pinched-nerve procedure in his lower back, likely has the former Lousiana Tech star chomping at the bit.

And it’s been showing on the practice field thus far.

Early reports out of training camp have praised Taylor as one of the team’s strongest performers. It’s only the first week, so there’s plenty of football and preseason ahead; nonetheless, it’s an encouraging development.

Of all the training camp battles to keep an eye on, the scrum at wide receiver should be the most exciting because nothing has really been cemented yet. This gives Taylor a real shot at challenging for the number two or three spots atop the depth chart. Granted, he’ll have to stay healthy and show that this back issue is firmly behind him.

Shanahan was asked how much better health-wise Trent Taylor has looked this year as opposed to last year during Monday’s post-practice presser:

There’s plenty to follow in a pivotal training camp and season for the 49ers. With higher-profile storylines such as Jimmy Garoppolo’s return, Nick Bosa’s and Dee Ford’s 49ers debut, Richard Sherman’s attempt to recapture All-Pro form, and George Kittle’s follow-up to a historic’s understandable that Taylor has gotten lost in the shuffle.

Just don’t be surprised if his name is one that starts to crop up more as training camp wears on.