San Francisco could look to use one of its draft picks on a pass catcher.
One position the San Francisco 49ers feel good about going into the 2021 NFL season is wide receiver.
The Niners look to have their top two wideouts in place for years to come. The team took Deebo Samuel in the second of the 2019 NFL Draft and followed that up by selecting Brandon Aiyuk 25th overall last year.
Both players had an immediate impact upon making the jump to the pros. Here are their numbers from their rookie seasons:
Samuel: 57 receptions, 802 yards, three touchdowns, 14 rushes for 159 yards, and three scores.
Aiyuk: 60 receptions, 748 yards, five touchdowns, six rushes for 77 yards, and two scores.
Deebo couldn’t stay on the field during his sophomore season. He suffered a Jones fracture during the 2020 offseason, which kept him out for the first three games. Samuel returned for four games before missing some more time because of a hamstring issue and also due to the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols.
He then returned for two games before re-injuring his hamstring just one play into the Niners’ Week 14 loss to the Washington Football Team. Samuel finished the seasons with 33 receptions for 391 yards and a touchdown in seven games.
Both receivers are YAC monsters but have different styles. Samuel is built like an ox and runs through defenders with the ball in his hands. Aiyuk uses his agility and athleticism to get open and is smooth with his movement.
There’s no doubt Samuel and Aiyuk will be at the top of the depth chart if both are healthy, but it will be interesting to see which other receivers will be on the roster in 2021.
Richie James Jr. is under contract for 2021 but hasn’t shown the consistency you would want from your third option. He had a standout performance in Week 9 loss to the Green Bay Packers, finishing the contest with nine catches for 184 yards and a touchdown.
James has been with the team since 2018 but has mainly been used as a returner. He finished the 2020 season with a career-high in receptions (23) and yards (394). However, consistency issues have plagued the speedster.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch will have to decide what to do with Kendrick Bourne. The 26-year-old is due to become an unrestricted free agent after finishing the 2020 campaign with career-highs in receptions (49) and yards (667). Bourne also caught two touchdowns.
Over the Cap values Bourne at $6.3 million on the open market, which is more than likely out of the 49ers’ budget.
Another veteran the Niners can lose is Trent Taylor. The 26-year-old hasn’t been the same since suffering a Jones Fracture that resulted in him getting five surgeries to correct the issue. Taylor struggled to get open in the slot and finished the 2020 campaign with just 10 receptions for 86 yards while playing 18% of the offense’s total snap counts.
Depth piece River Cracraft was thrust into action due to all of the injuries and have seven catches for 85 yards. He was mainly used in a special teams role. Cracraft signed a new deal to stay in San Francisco for the upcoming season.
Shanahan had high hopes for the 2019 third-round selection Jalen Hurd, who unfortunately hasn’t played a regular-season down since joining the team. Hurd hurt his back during the 2019 preseason, which caused him to miss his entire rookie campaign. He looked great at last year’s training camp but wound up tearing his ACL. If he can knock off the rust after missing back-to-back seasons, the 49ers will give him plenty of opportunities to make his mark.
The team will also see how Jauan Jennings develops going into his second year, and veteran Travis Benjamin is under contract after opting out of the 2020 campaign due to the COVID-19 threat.
Depending on what happens with veteran left tackle, San Francisco won’t have too much to spend during free agency. With a projected $185 million salary cap, the 49ers would have roughly $16 million in cap space, that’s with up to 40 players who could hit the open market in the offseason. That amount can grow depending on what happens with cuts and contract restructures in the coming weeks.
Since Samuel and Aiyuk are on the roster, don’t expect the Niners to take a receiver with one of their early draft picks, but the team does need depth at the position.
Several options should be available in free agency. Players like Allen Robinson, Marvin Jones, Corey Davis, and T.Y. Hilton will probably be out of the 49ers’ price range. Still, other veterans could sign a cheap one-year deal given the cap constraints following a season with mostly empty stadiums.
Here are some of the wideouts who are slated to become unrestricted free agents:
A.J. Green, Sammy Watkins, Breshad Perriman, Willie Snead, Keelan Cole, Chris Connelly, Danny Amendola.
Green has spent his entire nine-year career with the Cincinnati Bengals and could join a contender this offseason. He played in all 16 games and finished with 47 receptions for 523 yards and two touchdowns.
San Francisco needs to add a slot receiver, so Snead or Amendola could be fits.
Even at 35 years old, Amendola was productive for the Miami Dolphins in 2020. The veteran played in 14 games and had 46 catches for 602 yards.
The 49ers could offer Bourne a new deal, gives James a shot, or hope that Hurd hasn’t lost a step after missing two years in a row. If they don’t feel like they have the answer already in-house, Shanahan and Lynch could explore the free-agent route or use one of their mid-to-late round selections on a receiver.
Which veteran receivers would you want the Niners to target? If they don’t, who do you think will be the team’s third receiver next season?