ESPN’s Bill Barnwell ranked the top offensive weapons in the NFL. Barnwell pointed out the following:
- Contract value doesn’t matter
- This exercise is for 2020 only
- Wide receivers matter more than other positions
- Top-level talent is worth more than depth
- Not everyone who was considered was mentioned
The San Francisco 49ers were 24th last year heading into the season, and that was probably fair considering George Kittle was the only established threat. The season before, they were 26th. So we’re at least trending in the right direction, though the bar was low. This year, the Niners have Kittle and Deebo Samuel, who made a name for themselves. San Francisco also relied on Kendrick Bourne in critical situations. After drafting a receiver in the first round and getting Trent Taylor and Jalen Hurd back, not to mention Raheem Mostert’s breakout year, where would the 49ers rank?
If these rankings were focused more on depth than top-tier talent, the 49ers would rank close to the top of the charts. San Francisco is deep at running back and wide receiver, even after trading Matt Breida and Marquise Goodwin in April. The Niners have one unquestioned star in tight end George Kittle, who is the best all-around player at the position in the league, although I’d argue that Travis Kelce is more impactful as a pure receiver. At the same time, nobody who ran more than 200 routes in 2019 averaged more than Kittle’s 3.3 yards per route run.
However, outside of Kittle, they are more about threatening you with consistent speed and YAC than any one particular target. Deebo Samuel could be that guy in the long term, but the Jones fracture he suffered in June is likely to limit his effectiveness in 2020. Untested players like first-round pick Brandon Aiyuk and 2019 second-rounder Jalen Hurd hold plenty of promise, but we haven’t seen either of them take an NFL snap. Guys like Dante Pettis, Trent Taylor, and Travis Benjamin are better than most teams’ fourth and fifth wideouts, but it’s unclear whether any or all of them will make the roster.
To Barnwell’s last point, Taylor is making the roster. I’m not so sure about Benjamin, though. Hurd, a third*-rounder, is going to be the difference-maker the team was looking for last year, I believe. It’s taken some time, but Shanahan has finally gotten the wide receiver room to look like he wants it to.
To Barnwell’s first point, the depth has been talked about on offense for a while, but it’s time for the talent to start rising to the top. We know the names mentioned can play; now, they have to do it. If/When that happens, the 49ers could find themselves closer to No. 10 than No. 20 next year.