When Travis Benjamin opted out Tuesday evening, that created a roster spot for the Niners, while the San Francisco 49ers are expected to fill that spot by signing edge rusher Dion Jordan, there could still be room to add a veteran receiver with speed. NBC Sports’ Matt Maiocco said the Niners would “almost certainly be in the market” for another speedy receiver.
The team enters training camp with eight healthy receivers: Brandon Aiyuk, Kendrick Bourne, Jalen Hurd, Trent Taylor, Jauan Jennings, Dante Pettis, Shawn Poindexter, and Chris Thompson. Deebo Samuel has a Jones’ fracture, while Riche James broke his wrist. UDFA Chris Finke was waived in July after a hamstring injury.
We know Kyle Shanahan loves speed. Benjamin said so himself when he signed with San Francisco. With that in mind, let’s take a look at five free-agent receivers that bring speed to the table that could help the 49ers. No, we won’t be talking about Josh Gordon or Antonio Brown.
Gabriel is a popular name who played under Shanahan, but he moved down on the Bears depth chart last season as the year went along. Gabriel started seven games for Chicago last season. He caught 29 of his 48 targets for 353 yards and four touchdowns. Gabriel averaged 2.7 yards after the catch, with a DVOA of -5.8%. Gabriel was terrific in 2016 with Matt Ryan and Shanahan, leading the league with a 33.7% DVOA. In 2016, Gabriel was in the slot 71% of the time; he has been in the slot less than half the time in every season since. Kyle would know how to use Gabriel.
Less than a month ago, the 49ers reportedly were interested in Wright. The former Panthers and Vikings receiver played 703 snaps in 2019, with 80% coming in the slot. Wright only caught 48% of his passes last season for 296 yards. His DVOA was a woeful -39.6%. Carolina didn’t have a quarterback, which contributed to Wright’s poor season. He also dropped six of his 36 catchable passes, per Football Outsiders. That’s a 17% drop rate, which is a hard pass for most teams.
2018 gives you a better idea of the player Wright can be. He caught 73% of his passes for 447 yards while averaging 4.6 yards after the catch, compared to 3.2 yards after the catch in 2019. Wright caught a team-high 12 passes for first downs in 2018.
The former Washington receiver is arguably the most talented name that will appear on this list. His numbers won’t match the talent, but we can blame the quarterbacks again. Richardson is a vertical threat. During his first year in Washington, Richardson played with Alex Smith. Last season, Dwayne Haskins was abysmal on deep passes. Injuries haven’t helped Richardson the past couple of seasons, but his surroundings have done him no favors. You have to go back to 2017 when Richardson played with Seattle to get a better idea of who he could be as a receiver. With a competent quarterback, Richardson caught 44 passes for 703 yards. His average depth of target was 15.4 yards, and his DVOA was 13.4%, good for 20th in the league.
We can’t talk about any position without mentioning a former Seahawk. Those are the rules; I don’t make them. Brown started at receiver to begin last season. Brown’s first half of the season was quite different than the second half. In the first seven games, Brown was targeted 24 times. He only received four targets during the last seven games. Brown finished with a -3.1% DVOA on 16 receptions for 220 yards and two touchdowns. Brown is 30, so he doesn’t have the upside as some of the younger wideouts on the roster. Brown is a deep threat, though.
When you get to Austin, you know there’s slim-pickings. I almost went with former Falcon Justin Hardy, but he’s not a deep threat. While Austin was known for being a “gadget” player for most of his career, Dallas tried to use Austin down the field last season. Austin caught one of his six targets over 20 yards. According to Football Outsiders, Austin had a 13.9-yard average depth of target on seven first down targets last season that produced a -29.3% DVOA. Yikes.
Austin has return value, but he also struggled on punts last year.