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Do the 49ers have a top-5 skill position group in the NFL?

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As the rules continue to evolve in football and trend toward allowing offenses to score more points, teams are beginning to pour more and more resources into their skill positions. For example, we see the Steelers draft a wide receiver in the second round yearly.

To win in today’s NFL, you need playmakers. Players who can take screen passes the distance or break a tackle and turn five-yard gains into 15-yard gains. Moving the chains and scoring touchdowns is what it’s all about, especially as defenses get faster and the pass rushers become more dominant.

The Athletic’s Ted Nguyen ranked the top skill position groups in the league and placed the 49ers fourth:

If George Kittle isn’t the best tight end in football, he’s the most complete tight end. He blocks better than most tackles on the edge, has the speed to separate and is a monster after the catch. The 49ers also have the best YAC wide receiver in the league with Deebo Samuel, who reported to minicamp after a dispute with the team over his contract or possibly over his usage as a running back. Even if we don’t see him as a “wide-back” again, he was one of the most productive receivers in the league, racking up 1,405 receiving yards last season.

Brandon Aiyuk made major strides last season after climbing out of the coaching staff’s doghouse and finished with 826 yards and five touchdowns — not bad for a third option. Rookie receiver Jauan Jennings also finished the season strong with a six-catch, 94-yard, two-touchdown game against the Rams in Week 17 and looks to have the potential to be a strong fourth option. It’s usually hard for a rookie receiver to earn Kyle Shanahan’s trust, but he was calling choice route plays for Jennings in clutch situations.

Fullback Kyle Juszczyk has proved to be one of the most unique players in the NFL. Though he doesn’t destroy defenders at the point of attack, he makes nearly every block he’s asked to make and has the speed and catching ability to win downfield as a receiver.

Many will roll their eyes at the thought of listing a fullback, but Juszczyk is a weapon. He’ll have a handful of critical plays throughout the season. I’m fascinated to see how his role changes with Trey Lance under center. Something tells me Juice will have a few more 20-yard receptions with Lance at the helm. I mentioned above how it’s all about moving the chains. It’s been since 2017 since Juszczyk had fewer than 52% of his passes go for first downs.

You know you have an embarrassment of riches at the skill position when you’re wondering who the fourth pass-catcher is. Brandon Aiyuk is the third option, and we haven’t seen his best ball yet. Last year, we saw what Deebo Samuel was capable of. George Kittle shows us what he can do every time he takes the field.

The added speed dimension of Danny Gray and Ray-Ray McCloud gives the Niners a dynamic they lacked last season. If Lance can take advantage while the top wideouts remain consistent, this group is comfortably top-5. That should be good enough to land them in the playoffs.