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Why Stanford’s Michael Wilson could entice the 49ers to draft another wide receiver

Injuries are a big red flag, but there’s no doubting the upside.

NFL: MAR 03 Scouting Combine Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 49ers don’t need to pick a wide receiver in the draft. With more pressing concerns elsewhere on the roster, it may even be prudent to elect not to invest in a player from a wideout class that most agree is underwhelming compared to previous years.

But Kyle Shanahan has only once been able to resist taking a wideout during his time as 49ers head coach. Since Shanahan and general manager John Lynch took the reins in 2017, the Niners have selected eight wide receivers, with 2021 the sole year in which they did not take one.

So, it was probably a smart move on the part of Stanford’s Michael Wilson to stay close to Shanahan and Lynch for, according to Matt Barrows of The Athletic, much of practice during San Francisco’s local pro day this week.

Conversations between Wilson and the 49ers’ power brokers are unlikely to have had any impact on their draft board at this point in the process, but there’s reason to believe that the former Cardinal pass-catcher may already be a favorite of Shanahan and the San Francisco front office.

Wilson is a wideout who checks many of the boxes of a Shanahan receiver, while bringing size the 49ers could certainly utilise.

He is just over 6’1” and 213 pounds, and the combination of his frame and his route-running prowess could make him extremely difficult to defend at the next level.

Wilson can beat physical press-man coverage with his hand usage, but his biggest strength is the fluidity and explosiveness he demonstrates when changing direction.

He consistently uses his change of direction quickness to help him create leverage and separation with his release. With head fakes also a key weapon in his arsenal in helping him sell routes to defenders further down the field — Matt Waldman has a nice breakdown of Wilson’s in-set and peek techniques — Wilson punishes corners who take the bait with smooth breaks in the opposite direction to maximize separation.

On comeback, curl and pivot routes, Wilson displays good sink in his knees and boasts the stop-start quickness to successfully execute double moves.

At the catch point, there are concerns over his consistency, and Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez had success troubling him in that area in their matchup last season.

Still, Wilson is a hands-catcher who regularly does an excellent job attacking the ball in the air and can make tough catches over the middle of the field.

Wilson’s ability to survive contact after the catch and make people miss in the open field gives him obvious YAC upside. Though he does not have top-end speed, Stanford made sure to use his short-area burst — Wilson posted a 87th percentile 10-yard split — he has at disposal by getting him the ball in the backfield on reverses.

Shanahan will undoubtedly be a fan of the aptitude and impressive attitude Wilson has consistently displayed in the blocking game, and the prospect of adding a receiver with significant route-running promise who plays inside and out and can carry the ball out of the backfield figures to be very enticing to the San Francisco head coach.

The big red flag with Wilson is injuries, which limited him to just four games in 2021 and six in 2022.

Durability concerns could temper the 49ers’ interest in a receiver who, having recorded a Relative Athletic Score of 9.55 out of 10, has the physical gifts and the versatility to immediately be a valuable backup for a stacked skill-position group that has regularly dealt with injuries to key players.

The 49ers have more important issues on the roster to address, but they are not significant enough to prevent San Francisco from going down the best player available road, should the Niners choose that avenue. If injuries drop Wilson into round three, the temptation could prove too great for Shanahan.