Wide receiver has climbed the ladder of importance when you’re talking about positions in the NFL. You need players who can win 1-on-1, and you need depth behind them.
The two teams in the Super Bowl are prime examples of what a talented, deep, wide receiver room that works in tandem looks like.
“Change” will be the theme of the 49ers' offense this offseason. From offensive coordinator to quarterback, with plenty to fill in between. How about in the wide receiver room, though?
The top three are set
The 49ers couldn’t have been happier with the production from their wide receiver room this season. Based on training camp, it seemed as though Brandon Aiyuk was set to break out in Year 2. He finished the season with four fewer receptions than he had during his rookie campaign but had 78 more receiving yards and the same number of touchdowns.
Aiyuk accomplished an 826-yard season despite a stint in the doghouse. He improved as a player, and he’ll be better suited for what Trey Lance brings to the table.
Jauan Jennings caught a touchdown in Week 2, but his role didn’t expand until Week 12. Jennings was automatic on third downs, as 15 of his 24 receptions resulted in first downs. He also added five touchdowns through the air.
But it’s Jennings's style of play that earned him more snaps. He’s the guy you want next to you in a bar fight. Ask the Jaguars. He’ll only continue to grow as a receiver. There won’t be any more WR3 arguments in the offseasons because of Jennings. He earned that role.
Oh yeah, Deebo Samuel. The player who had 1,397 yards receiving with an average depth of target of 8.4 yards. This could be the offseason Samuel cashes in with a contract extension. He’s not going anywhere.
Changes to the backend?
Mohamed Sanu is an unrestricted free agent and will be 33-years-old at the start of the season. He hasn’t made it to double-digit games since 2018. It makes sense to have a veteran in your wide receiver room, but you need one that can stay healthy.
At the end of the season, Kyle Shanahan gave Sanu credit for allowing Jennings to grow into the player we saw in November.
Jennings's emergence made Trent Sherfield expendable. The 26-year-old to be had a strong training camp then disappeared. Sherfield faded as the season went along, and it couldn’t have ended on a worse note when he couldn’t make it to block Eric Weddle on 2nd & 1 in the fourth quarter.
Sherfield proved to be an outstanding special-teamer, but I’d look to find somebody who could contribute on offense, too. Sherfield faded because he simply wasn’t physical enough to survive in this offense.
Travis Benjamin is the final player who will turn 33 and is also an unrestricted free agent. He had a solid punt return here or there, but did he ever do enough on offense or special teams to make you think he has to return? Not really.
The 49ers could continue to look in the draft's later rounds at wide receiver. Finding a veteran that can make sure Aiyuk, Samuel, and Jennings continue to evolve and stay on track feels like a necessity.
I also think the team could find a “gadget” guy that can return punts and help you get creative with Lance and Deebo. Jakeem Grant of the Bears is an obvious name, but lesser-known players like Cam Sims from the Commanders or Isaiah McKenzie of the Bills feel like they’d help the Niners' offense.
You can never go wrong with adding speed. My veteran pick would be Albert Wilson of the Dolphins. He’s 30. He seems like a Shanahan type of wideout who could serve as a mentor to the young wideouts.