The 49ers don’t exactly have a problem at wide receiver, but there are definitely questions at WR3 and beyond. Trent Sherfield initially looked to only contribute on special teams when he signed in March. Sherfield showing he’s more than a special teamer and can impact the game as a pass-catcher is great for the receiver room.
In Deebo Samuel’s absence, Sherfield got reps with the starters yesterday and got open at every level. I think Sherfield could be used in Kyle Shanahan's offense similarly to Marquise Goodwin. Goodwin wasn’t the best route runner, but Shanahan moved him effectively in 2017.
If Trent Sherfield can continue to get open, he will definitely have a case for WR3. However, Sherfield needs to display he can play outside and slot receiver to help his case. Mohamed Sanu having 10 years in the NFL coupled with his familiarity with Shanahan’s offense likely points to him leading the WR3 argument for now.
Sanu was impressive on Day 1 of the Niners training camp. On the other hand, I think Sanu’s impact will mainly be felt through the other receivers as he can show them how to be a pro. Refocusing on Sherfield, you can look at his Relative Athletic Score to try to gauge how dynamic he can be.
Having a limited receiving career in his three seasons with the Cardinals leaves him with plenty of potential now that he’s with Shanahan. We can look at how he can contribute to San Francisco with a few clips.
Down the field threat
Sherfield catching the monster heave Trey Lance threw on Tuesday helps his chances of getting more reps in the game as a threat down the field. Gaining a connection with Lance should be inevitable for a WR looking for a bigger impact with San Franciso, and Sherfield is doing that.
You can see Sherfield used as a medium to deep threat above. In both clips, he’s featured as the inside receiver to get a feel where you could potentially see him on Sundays.
Having multiple receivers who can threaten a defense deep is essential for an explosive offense. Pairing San Francisco’s exquisite run game with a new dynamic of throwing the ball downfield could set the league on fire.
Short and intermediate targets are pretty prominent in the 49er's offense, especially with Jimmy Garopplo. As a result, Sherfield has to consistently catch short looks so the defense won’t solely expect the deeper route.
In the first clip, he gets away with a push-off at the top of his route, but you can see him elevate to catch the ball. In the second clip, you get a feel for how he can make defenders miss after the catch.
Sherfield showed he can separate in-man coverage in the first clip and could've got more yards after the catch with a better throw. Then you see him make a tough grab with a few defenders around.
Camp predictions and 2021 season impact
I should reiterate that Sanu is the lead WR3, and it's his job to lose. Sherfield has a chance to unseat him if he can keep winning at all levels on the field. Sanu’s ability is limited, and Sherfield brings a different element. Richie James Jr. should be worried about his impact on the season because it sounds like Sherfield is the next man up.