NBC Sports Matt Maiocco predicted his 53-man roster headed into training camp for the San Francisco 49ers, and a few things stood out. The two biggest came at wide receiver. Maiocco said the team expects Deebo Samuel to miss the first six games. That could be them being cautious, as Samuel has been outspoken about missing minimal time. The answer likely lies somewhere in the middle.
Here were Maiocco’s projections on which wideouts make the team:
In: Kendrick Bourne, Brandon Aiyuk, Trent Taylor, Jalen Hurd, Richie James (Deebo Samuel/non-football injury)
Out: Dante Pettis, Jauan Jennings, Tavon Austin, J.J. Nelson, Chris Thompson, Shawn Poindexter
The team seems to be expecting Samuel to miss the first six games of the season as he rehabs from surgery to repair a Jones fracture. But looking at some of his workout videos, it might not be a stretch to think he can return earlier. The 49ers expect to sign veteran receivers Tavon Austin and J.J. Nelson after they had good workouts on Friday morning. Whether either player makes the team to open the season, that’s another question. Of course, the 49ers could keep six receivers on their roster for a while. But it seems it’s most likely to come down to one of those veterans or James. We’re going to give James the nod because of his return skills. The onus is on Pettis to prove he can bring something to the team after he disappeared last season. Jennings, a late-round draft pick, is going to put up one heck of a fight for a roster spot. Do not rule him out.
I agree that Austin and Nelson both remain long shots to make the roster. I’m struggling to find a reason to cut Pettis. Yes, he struggled mightily all season and fell out of favor to the point where he wasn’t active in the Super Bowl. Rumors floated around this offseason that San Francisco tried to trade Pettis, but no deal ever happened.
Cutting Pettis would require John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan to admit they made a mistake and move on from Pettis, who showed plenty of promise as a rookie in 2018 in seven games. The trade market wouldn’t be much for Pettis, but I’d imagine a team would be willing to give you a Day 3 pick, at worst. If we’re going off raw talent, Pettis remains a top-five talent in the receiver room. Is he one of the five-most reliable receivers? That’s a different story, and would be the reason the team moves on from him.
If James makes the roster, it’ll be because of his special teams’ value. Shanahan hasn’t given James much action at receiver, though James has made a few splash plays when given the opportunity. Everyone is aware of Pettis’s history as a returner in college. He was one of the most prolific punt returners in NFL history. If the 49ers don’t plan on giving Dante an opportunity as a punt returner and don’t see a future with him in the offense, then why not trade him before the NFL Draft so you could recoup a pick? What changed since then? Then again, they could have tried and realized there wasn’t a market for Pettis.
How many receivers do you think the Niners will keep, assuming Samuel is the only wideout that isn’t healthy?