In these quarantine times, I thought it was a good time to give some other 49ers’ fans a voice. Mikey Partington, who you can follow here, put together this in-depth piece discussing the future of wide receiver for the San Francisco 49ers. Mikey did a great job of exploring all options. Here he is.
On Saturday morning, 49ers Wide Receivers Coach Wes Welker bid farewell to Emmanuel Sanders just a few hours after the wideout signed with the New Orleans Saints. In a Tweet thanking the 33-year-old for his efforts through the second half of the season, Welker said: “My Teammate! My Dude! My Fam! Going to miss you, brotha! Wish you all the best! Love ya bro!”
The impact Sanders had in his short time at the 49ers is evident, not just on Welker, not just on his fellow playmakers, but on the organisation itself. Welker worked closely with Sanders for nearly four months in San Fransisco following the latter’s trade from the Denver Broncos back in October. Their relationship, however, goes further than the receiving room at Levi’s Stadium.
The two were of course teammates in Denver back in 2014, as a veteran Welker helped Sanders continue his development in his first year in Denver, after being picked up by the Broncos. It would have been intriguing to see the potential in a full year of the two working together in that player-coach mould, but with Sanders now in NOLA, the departure of Welker’s friend and star receiver leaves plenty of speculation around what is next for the 49ers receiving room ahead of the 2020 campaign.
The wideout registered 36 catches at an average of 13.9 yards and three touchdowns during his time in the red and gold as the Niners pushed on from a promising 6-0 start at the time of the trade, to a place in the Super Bowl. Although it wasn’t a major surprise to not see Sanders return, there’s no question that it leaves a huge hole that the front office will be potentially looking at addressing during this offseason.
Sanders’ impact on the field was evident as his WR1 presence opened up Shanahan’s playbook and allowed for a more versatile style of play-calling, that mixed in the run and play-action plays that worked so prolifically in the postseason run to Miami. But it’s his impact off the field that will perhaps be the biggest miss in the receiving room going forward. He provided a much-needed veteran presence to a young receiving core and acted like a bigger brother to the likes of Deebo Samuel and Kendrick Bourne, with their game evidently being taken to the next level in the months that Sanders was in the building.
So, with 17 gone, what’s next? Sanders unquestionably makes the Saints’ offense stronger and poses a bigger challenge to the Niners in the franchise’s quest to be the NFC’s Super Bowl representative in successive seasons. Despite that, you have to feel that there’s already a strategy that’s been put in place by Shanahan, John Lynch & co, regarding the wide-receiver room, to be strong enough to run it back and challenge again in 2020, having not opted to bring Sanders back. So, where could it be carried out?
In Free Agency or via a trade
The plan could be executed to round off their moves in the free agency period. There’s been no shortage of debate recently amongst the Faithful around the potential of trading for Odell Beckham Jr. after just one season in Cleveland. Last week, Bleacher Report’s Adam Lefkoe discussed on a podcast with Connor Rogers how Shanahan had been chasing Beckham Jr. for years after Bart Scott said on ESPN Radio a day earlier that OBJ was on the trading block. Presuming the Niners would go down that route and can work the cap around to make a deal for Beckham Jr. viable, it could be now or never for Shanahan to go and get his guy. Alternatively, New York Jets WR Robby Anderson is a name that has been touted about since he became an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career in recent days. Like Beckham Jr., he would add talent, experience, and an outlet to expand Shanahan’s offense, with the Niners able to replace Sanders imminently and look elsewhere at other position groups with their early picks in the draft.
In the Draft
Adding to the receiving room in next month’s draft is also a very attractive option on the table right now, though. It comes after the Niners acquired the 13th overall pick from the Indianapolis Colts in the DeForest Buckner trade, to go along with the originally held 31 st selection. Star prospects such as Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb and Henry Ruggs III have now all of a sudden become of interest to the Niners should they go down the draft route to replace Sanders, presuming at least one of them is still on the board at 13. This year’s talented receiving class coming out of college is one of the finest in recent times and is stacked with options, giving the Niners plenty to chose from when it comes to bolstering their own playmaking options.
When September comes around, the Niners may roll into Week 1 with what they’ve already got on the receiving front – and only that. And by no means is it an untalented room. Deebo Samuel enjoyed a sparkling rookie campaign whilst Kendrick Bourne went from strength to strength in 2019.
Presuming they get back to full health, you’ve also got difference makers in Trent Taylor and Jalen Hurd, who impressed in training camp last summer before missing the 2019 season through injury. Dante Pettis and Marquise Goodwin will still have points to prove given a chance too. But do you still need that X-Factor-type star? That guy who’s going to make you instant contenders again. That OBJ. That Jeudy/Lamb/Ruggs. That Sanders as it was. Wes Welker is coaching a room with plenty of talent right now. It’s a room that just got to a Super Bowl. But that room had Emmanuel Sanders in it. The question is how will the Niners move forward from Sanders and where will the gap he has left be addressed, if it needs to be, ahead of the 2020 campaign?