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Kyle Shanahan plans for six wide receivers, one with special teams value

What was a difficult decision might still be difficult, but for the wrong reasons.

Remember when I said the 49ers might have some hard decisions to make at wide receiver? Remember when I said that they might burn other roster spots to have seven wide receivers because they don’t want any of these guys to go away?

Well, the 49ers still have hard decisions to make, but it’s for the wrong reasons. The wide receivers haven’t exactly done much to separate themselves, at least to where deciding on keeping seven is in the conversation. In his conference call Tuesday, Kyle Shanahan indicated that six is still the magic number. Of those six, one would be for special teams reasons:

“It factors in for everybody. If you’re not a starter, and if you are a starter sometimes you help, but you usually like to keep six receivers, usually only have five up on game day. So, sometimes that sixth one isn’t necessarily your best special teams guy because he doesn’t even get up. The sixth’s one got to be able to come in and play if you lose a starter. Yes, it matters, but it’s not as clear cut as that. It depends on who makes the 53 and who’s up on the 46 on gamedays. Usually your fifth guy is going to be that special teams player where your sixth guy is usually a better receiver.”

So there you have it. Five wide receivers would be suiting up with one sitting out. One of those six is better as a special teams player than a receiver.

This is similar to the arguments with the running backs. Until recently, Raheem Mostert would win the battle for the final running back spot for his special teams’ ability, not his running back ability. If his performance Tuesday indicates anything, he might be getting some extra carries.

At this point, the special teams rub could go to Richie James. James has established himself as an excellent kickoff returner, but his drops in Week 1 of the preseason were maddening. Bourne was also inconsistent with his play at wide receiver.

If you factor special teams into this, the 2018 snaps may help. Kendrick Bourne only saw 22 snaps on special teams in 2018 as opposed to James’ 134 so that may make him the odd man out if special teams were a deciding factor.

Right now, locks are Jalen Hurd, Deebo Samuel, and Dante Pettis. Marquise Goodwin is almost a shoo-in, but stranger things have happened. Trent Taylor should be good as well since he was doing well in training camp until his injury. That leaves a decision between James, Bourne, and Jordan Matthews.

Five will start with four being used mostly for catching passes and one for special teams, while the odd-man-out will be watching from the sidelines.

Does this change your idea of who the 49ers keep?