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Barnwell: Wide receivers are 49ers’ Achilles heel going into 2020 NFL season

Injuries have hit the receiving group hard leading up to the Week 1 matchup against the Arizona Cardinals,

Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

The offseason has been rough for the San Francisco 49ers’ wide receivers group. No. 1 wideout Deebo Samuel suffered a Jones fracture, while Richie James Jr. injured his wrist during a training session with teammates before the start of training camp.

Then, once the team gathered in the Bay Area, more bad news came when second-year receiver Jalen Hurd tore his ACL, making it the second-straight year that he will not play a snap in the regular season. A week later, rookie Brandon Aiyuk —who looked very good during practices— pulled up lame on a deep route after injuring his hamstring, taking another weapon off the field for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

ESPN’s Bill Barnwell picked the Achilles Heal for each of the NFL playoff contenders, and he says the wide receiver position is the biggest weakness for the Niners:

“There are still some healthy pieces left in the cupboard if coach Kyle Shanahan wants to use them. (Kendrick) Bourne’s role diminished in 2019, but he seems likely to start in the slot ahead of the returning Trent Taylor, who missed all of last season. Bourne was an every-down regular compared to Dante Pettis, who seemed to be in Shanahan’s doghouse before the 2019 season and played only nine offensive snaps after Week 9. Pettis seemed like trade fodder heading into the offseason, but now the 49ers might need him for meaningful action.”

The return of Trent Taylor is enormous for the team. The 49ers lacked a receiver who can make tough catches underneath in 2019, which is Taylor’s specialty. He should help Garoppolo convert more third-downs this season. As Barnwell mentions, Pettis had some nice plays during training camp, but a lack of consistency makes it hard to count on him to be a meaningful contributor week in and week out.

By all accounts, Samuel is on track to return sooner than later, and Aiyuk should be ready to go for the Week 1 matchup against the Arizona Cardinals. The Niners have the luxury of having one of the best tight ends in the league in George Kittle, and if Jordan Reed can stay healthy, it gives head coach Kyle Shanahan more ammunition in the passing game. The 49ers’ pass-catchers have a ton of speed, and with Shanahan’s play-calling wizardry, San Francisco should be just fine when throwing the football.

The interior of the offensive line could be a more significant issue. Center Weston Richburg will miss at least the first six weeks while recovering from a gruesome knee injury, and his backup Ben Garland hurt his ankle during camp. PFF gave Richburg a 75.1 pass-blocking grade in 2019, while Garland struggled against the rush in passing situations, with PFF giving him a 62.8 grade.

San Francisco has brought in some depth pieces at center, while also giving some reps to Daniel Brunskill, who had his share of miscues during practice. Tom Compton and Colton McKivitz are battling out for the right guard spot, with Brunskill at center. As Kyle pointed out, both Compton and McKivitz haven’t been very impressive during camp.

Hopefully Garland, and Richburg can get back to being fully healthy. Shanahan can shift Brunskill to right guard and keep Compton as well as McKivitz as backups, which is where they’re better suited for the time being. The Niners struggled with their passing game against dominant defensive tackles, so it is imperative for the team to be at its best on the interior of the line.

Which position are you more concerned about going into Week 1? Let us know in the poll below.

Poll

Which position are you more concerned about going into Week 1?

This poll is closed

  • 12%
    Wide receivers
    (142 votes)
  • 87%
    The interior of the offensive line
    (994 votes)
1136 votes total Vote Now