49ers general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan spoke on the evolution of the Niners receiver room yesterday. In the past three seasons, San Francisco had more nimble and agile receivers. Now, the Niners are turning to body sizes that favor Shanahans’ big slot receiver.
Let’s look at what this new receiver body type can mean for the 49ers' offense.
Lynch was asked: Compared to the group that you had in 2017, the wide receivers are approximately three and a half inches taller as a whole than they were back then. I know you always go for players that can actually play but is also kind of gaining size in the wide receiver group one of the things that you looked for when you were going through the whole process?
“I think you always evolve as a group, and you kind of learn together, and I do think that is something right now in football. Power, being a powerful player at whatever position is really important. And I just think at receiver there’s a trend in the league, despite all the rules, when can you do your work because of the five-yard rule where you can have contact, everybody tries to get really physical within those five yards. And so, you better have the strength necessary to pull away from people. And we probably focused on separators early on, but if they don’t have that requisite power, that’s difficult. And there’s trends that change in the game. And I think we try to adapt. Now having said that, I think now what we love is strong, physical, powerful players who can also separate. And so that’s what we’ve tried to achieve. I know a lot’s been said about this group, but I really like what this group can become. They have to go do it, but I think we can play many different styles with this group. We can play bully ball and get after you, but these guys are also guys who there’s speed in there, there’s playmakers in there. So, I like the versatility of the group, and I’m excited about where we are heading into the season.”
Lynch talked about power and bully ball when changing the mold of the 49er receiver room. Mohamed Sanu, Jauan Jennings, and Jalen Hurd are proof of that.
All of these receivers look to have an advantage against most linebackers, nickel corners, and safeties. The Niners missed having a receiver that is physical at the catch point in 2020. Ideally, these guys fit the mold for a big slot receiver.
I questioned Sanu’s impact when talking about the emergence of Trent Sherfield. After Lynch’s comments, I'm now left thinking that Sanu’s role could be more significant than I thought initially.
Jennings has the highest upside of the three big slot receivers. Not the fastest guy, but he still manages to make explosive plays. Having a strong camp really helped Jennings’ rise in having an opportunity to contribute this year. Jennings is the most underrated receiver on the team despite dropping the would-be touchdown Sunday. There is still time for Jennings to show consistency.
Hurd continues to be a work in progress. After having 27 reps on Sunday, Hurd worked to the side yesterday after having Tuesday off. I mentioned Hurd’s availability in my five takeaways against the Raiders. Hurd showed promise and looks the ideal WR the Niners are looking for, but they may regret wasting so much time with him.
Is it worth giving a guy a roster spot that cannot practice for a week straight?
Shanahan was asked: All of those guys are over 200 pounds, some of them are well over 200 pounds. Do you like the capabilities that you have with a big group like that?
“Yeah, you try to put the best six together that you can. And by no means do I ever say, ‘Hey, we need six guys who are all over this weight’ or six guys who are this or that. You just try to get the best six possible. It’s probably one of the bigger groups that I have ever had, just as far as everyone being that size, and there are some advantages to that.”
The weight is not the only thing making these guys big slot receivers. Their stature and how they play also contribute to that. Meshing these players with agile receivers can give defenses fits on all levels of the field.
San Francisco’s top three receivers in Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, and Sherfield are all impact players. However, it is safe to say the other three receivers have questions attached to them. How much does Sanu have left in the tank? Can Hurd stay on the field? Can Jennings be consistent a target?