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49ers roster battles: Will WR2 be by committee?

It all depends on how quickly Brandon Aiyuk gets comfortable in the 49ers offense

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Super Bowl LIV - San Francisco 49ers v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

During our first San Francisco 49ers roster installment, we debated who would start alongside Fred Warner as well as who will steal the last two spots at linebacker. Today, we turn to the most polarizing position on the 49er roster: wide receiver. We’ll focus on who will be WR2 today, as we’ll get to WR3 and WR4 as the offseason goes on. The Niners have enough depth at the position where you can make an argument for a handful of players to be the second-best wideout on the team. Let’s take a look at the options to complement Deebo Samuel.

Brandon Aiyuk

WR2 is Aiyuk’s job to lose. The 49ers need a wide receiver that can win down the field. Aiyuk was timed using a GPS device running 21.97 MPH. Matt Breida has the fastest time per Next Gen Stats over the past two seasons at 22.3 MPH, which happened Week 5 during an 83-yard race to the end zone against Cleveland. Aiyuk can flat out fly.

Aside from speed and athleticism, Aiyuk’s talent gives him a leg up over the rest of the players that will be mentioned on this list. The comparisons for Aiyuk have been hyperbolic, but he’s earned them. Kyle Shanahan said the first-round receiver out of Arizona State could be similar to Isaac Bruce. Aiyuk’s position coach said he’s the closest receiver to Torry Holt during his 40 years of coaching. For Brandon, it’ll come down to how quickly he can get adjusted to the NFL and Shanahan’s playbook. Not having live reps or OTAs are worrisome, but every rookie will be behind the eight ball.

Kendrick Bourne

One of the most efficient wideouts on the team and the best hands, Bourne proved he was a reliable target in 2019. How much better can Bourne be? What’s his ceiling? Have we already seen it? Those are questions that I’d ask about him. Heading into a “contract year,” Bourne has an opportunity in front of him to earn himself a nice contract next offseason. What Bourne has over the receivers that will be listed after him is durability, availability, and a level of trust with his quarterback.

Jimmy Garoppolo had zero issues going to Bourne on third down or in the red zone last season. The two can build on that trust in 2020. Would you feel comfortable with Bourne as the teams WR2?

Fighting off injuries

Jalen Hurd and Trent Taylor are the ultimate wild cards for the 49ers. That’s not at wide receiver, but on the entire roster. Taylor looked like his wide receiver coach, Wes Welker, during 2019’s training camp. Taylor looked better than the version we saw as a rookie. We’ll find out in a few months if he can regain that form. If we’re talking about receivers who complement each other, Taylor is perfect for the 49ers offense and will allow both Samuel and Aiyuk to flourish.

Where Taylor lacks, jump balls, contested catch situations, and stretching the field down the seams, Hurd steps in and fills that role. Will Hurd be healthy? As much as we’ve talked about Taylor dominating last training camp, it was Hurd that many felt would be the best rookie wide receiver on the team. Hurd showed he was tough to bring down with one person last year. His head was spinning the first few days with all of the new information, but as the week wore on, Hurd got better and better. It’s not false hope to believe in either Taylor or Hurd as we’ve seen them perform. Now we have to see that performance consistently for an entire season.

The 49ers have the best tight end in football and an emerging star in Samuel. Between Aiyuk, Bourne, Hurd, and Taylor, the Niners will field a strong, wide receiver corps. Fair or not, one of these players will play a significant role in 2020 and will be asked to make plays at critical parts of the game. Realistically, these are the four players that will challenge for WR2. Is there any chance Aiyuk doesn’t finish the season as the 49ers WR2 statistically?