Even after missing out on All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones, the San Francisco 49ers feel good about their pass-catching group. Pro Football Focus is high on the 49ers’ pass-catchers, ranking the unit as the seventh-best in the NFL.
The Niners look to have their top two wideouts in place for years to come. The team took Deebo Samuel in the second of the 2019 NFL Draft and followed that up by selecting Brandon Aiyuk 25th overall last year.
Both players had an immediate impact upon making the jump to the pros. Here are their numbers from their rookie seasons:
Samuel: 57 receptions, 802 yards, three touchdowns, 14 rushes for 159 yards, and three scores.
Aiyuk: 60 receptions, 748 yards, five touchdowns, six rushes for 77 yards, and two scores.
Deebo couldn’t stay on the field during his sophomore season. He suffered a Jones fracture during the 2020 offseason, which kept him out for the first three games. Samuel returned for four games before missing some more time because of a hamstring issue and also due to the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols.
He then returned for two games before re-injuring his hamstring just one play into the Niners’ Week 14 loss to the Washington Football Team. Samuel finished the seasons with 33 receptions for 391 yards and a touchdown in just seven games.
Both receivers are YAC monsters but have different styles. Samuel is built like an ox and runs through defenders with the ball in his hands. Aiyuk uses his agility and athleticism to get open and is smooth with his movement.
There’s no doubt Samuel and Aiyuk will be at the top of the depth chart if both are healthy, but it will be interesting to see which other receivers will be on the roster in 2021.
Richie James Jr. is under contract for next season but hasn’t shown the consistency you would want from your third option. With Samuel and Aiyuk out of the lineup, James had a standout performance in Week 9 loss to the Green Bay Packers, finishing the contest with nine catches for 184 yards and a touchdown.
James has been with the team since 2018 but has mainly been used as a returner. He finished the 2020 season with a career-high in receptions (23) and yards (394). But, the team doesn’t seem comfortable using James as its third receiver.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch decided not to bring back Kendrick Bourne. The 26-year-old signed a three-year deal worth up to $22.5 million with the New England Patriots after finishing the 2020 campaign with career-highs in receptions (49) and yards (667). Bourne also caught two touchdowns.
Another veteran who won’t be back next season is Trent Taylor. The 26-year-old hasn’t been the same since suffering a Jones Fracture that resulted in him getting five surgeries to correct the issue. Taylor struggled to get open in the slot and finished the 2020 campaign with just 10 receptions for 86 yards while playing 18% of the offense’s total snap counts. Taylor signed with the Cincinnati Bengals earlier in the offseason.
Depth piece River Cracraft was thrust into action due to all of the injuries and have seven catches for 85 yards. He was mainly used in a special teams role. Cracraft signed a new deal to stay in San Francisco for the upcoming season.
Shanahan had high hopes for the 2019 third-round selection Jalen Hurd, who unfortunately hasn’t played a regular-season down since joining the team. Hurd hurt his back during the 2019 preseason, which caused him to miss his entire rookie campaign. He looked great at last year’s training camp but wound up tearing his ACL. If he can knock off the rust after missing back-to-back seasons, the 49ers will give him plenty of opportunities to make his mark.
The team will also see how Jauan Jennings develops going into his second year, and veteran Travis Benjamin is under contract after opting out of the 2020 campaign due to the COVID-19 threat.
Another veteran who remains on the roster is Mohamed Sanu. The 31-year-old had just 17 receptions for 187 yards while playing for the Niners and Detroit Lions in 2020. San Francisco also added Bennie Fowler, Andy Jones and Austin Watkins Jr. (UDFA) in free agency. Kevin White remains with the team as well.
The 49ers have a superstar tight end in George Kittle, who will be on the focal points of the offense once again, but they could use some pass-catching depth on the roster.
Over the Cap currently has the Niners with a little more than $17.8 million in cap space, but that number will decrease once the team signs all of its 2021 draft picks.
There are still a few veteran options on the open market that San Francisco could target. The top remaining wide receivers are Kenny Stills, Golden Tate, Danny Amendola and Alshon Jeffrey.
Here are each receiver’s stats from the 2020 season:
Stills (Houston Texans): 12 games, 11 receptions for 144 yards and one touchdown. Averaged 13.1 yards per reception.
Tate (New York Giants): 12 games, 35 receptions for 388 yards and two touchdowns. Averaged 11.2 yards per reception.
Amendola (Miami Dolphins): 14 games, 46 receptions for 602 yards. Averaged 13.1 yards per reception.
Alshon Jeffrey (Philadelphia Eagles): Seven games, six receptions for 115 yards and a touchdown. Averaged 19.2 yards per reception.
Who do you think will emerge as the 49ers’ third receiver in 2021? Do you think they will look to bring in another veteran through free agency?