San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan made it clear after Monday’s practice that no positions are secured at wide receiver:
“I mean, I think all our spots are open. I know we’ve got the guys who are most likely to make the team at the upper spot, but on the guys that we’re dependent on how they’re going to go. I mean, we don’t have 1, 2, 3 or 4 settled.
You guys know who’s probably going to make it, at least with those groups, like you are saying, but those guys have got to go out there and play. I mean, we had a lot of young guys play last year by default with the injuries that happen and some of the situtaions we were in, so I want those guys going out there competeing and showing they can play good football.
And I’ve been really impressed with Trent so far with how he’s done that. I’ve been extremely impressed with Jauan, how he’s gone out there and done that. And it’s only one game in, but I need everyone else to get to that level also.”
When a coach singles you out, as was the case with Trent Sherfield and Jauan Jennings, that’s a terrific sign that they’ll make the roster.
We know Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk are locks to make the roster. So let’s add Mohamed Sanu to the list, which leaves one spot for Jalen Hurd, Nsimba Webster, River Cracraft, and Richie James.
What traits are Shanahan and the 49ers coaching staff looking for? Good football players:
“I mean, it’s always going to come down to how good of a football player you are, but that’s the challenge each year. You’ve got to have a certain amount of ability to get in the club as I like to say with the NFL. So you’ve got to have a certain skill set that allows you to at least get in there to compete. But if you do, where you go with that is how good of a football player you are, how hard you compete, how much don’t hesitate. And Jauan, he plays like his hair is on fire. And I think a lot of our receivers can learn from watching him.”
Jennings might be the new Kendrick Bourne to Kyle after this recent praise, but it’s warranted.
When Shanahan raved about Jennings, to me, he was sending a message to his starters. During the preseason game against the Chiefs, you could see that Jennings treats every rep as if it’s his last. His effort as a blocker stood out. It’s crazy to see a wideout try and pretend to care about blocking.
I also thought Shanahan was trying to get both Aiyuk and Deebo’s attention when it comes to focusing — which was an issue on Aiyuk’s drop.
Whoever is the last receiver to make the roster will have to earn it. So if you’re Hurd, you have to be available. If you’re James, you must catch the ball. In Webster’s case, he has to continue to impress on special teams during the preseason.
Nsimba looked explosive as a returner, on his reverse, and as a gunner on special teams. With another strong outing in a preseason game, he could jump a head of James on the depth chart.
Whether there are one or two spots open, this battle will be fascinating to see play out. As Shanahan said, “it’s hard to keep seven receivers” last week. There are going to be talented players that the 49ers will release. When you build a strong roster, that should be viewed as a compliment.