When you look at the 49ers' depth at wide receiver, you still see a bunch of question marks after Deebo Samuel. And even Samuel could have a sophomore slump -- Dante Pettis sure did.
After Samuel, the 49ers are relying on players to return from injuries.
The 49ers' receivers are really young. The Niners are counting on their potential more than anything else. And by potential I mean they are counting on Samuel to get better, and hoping a few others return from injury and can perform. We will take a look at all the receivers on the roster and check to see how they will make the team.
The first wide receiver on the list is the 2019 rookie sensation Deebo Samuel.
Samuel is a gadget receiver capable of turning a three-yard catch into an 80-yard touchdown. He also can take a reverse 38 yards for a touchdown with a nasty spin move. He has that dog in him and is capable of becoming an excellent receiver, as he already is a good route runner. Kyle used Samuel as a gadget player and ran a lot of sweeps with Samuel. He excelled as a receiver and gained a lot of yards after the catch -- 473 yards to be exact.
Samuel enters the 2020 season as the No. 1 receiver on the roster. He should have an expanded role as he will have a better grasp of the offense, meaning he'll react and not think next year.
The next receiver on the list is not who you think it is. Kendrick Bourne comes into camp as the No. 2 receiver on the roster. It sounds weird to hear Bourne as the No. 2 when he has been no more than a No. 3 or a No. 4 since he entered the league.
However, due to Covid-19 and the departure of Emmanuel Sanders, Bourne is the guy who understands the offense and is healthy and a reliable target for Jimmy Garoppolo. Bourne is the highest-paid receiver in the room and could allow Brandon Aiyuk to be eased into the offense and not be given such a big load right away.
Receiver 3 goes to Brandon Aiyuk, one of the 49ers' first-round draft picks in 2020. Aiyuk is capable of being used how Samuel was used last year. If it was a regular offseason and not a pandemic preventing rookie minicamps and OTAs from happening, then I would say Aiyuk would be the No. 1 or No. 2 to start the season.
Instead, Shanahan should ease in Samuel for the first couple weeks. This would allow him to learn the offense at his speed, so once the games become tighter and more playoff-atmosphere-like, he won't be thinking as much and will react to the game. He will have really high expectations from the fan base because the 49ers passed on CeeDee Lamb and Jerry Jeudy to then trade up to land Aiyuk.
To round out the receiver room we have five receivers battling for three spots if 49ers decide to go with six receivers, or four spots if they keep seven receivers. In 2019 they kept seven, but with a harder roster to make the team in 2020, they will need to make harder cuts, and receivers could be an area they either decide to keep seven due to youth, or maybe they'll feel confident and keep just six.
The five receivers fighting for the back end of the roster are Dante Pettis, Trent Taylor, Jalen Hurd, Jauan Jennings, and Richie James. The best receiver in camp last year by far was Trent Taylor, so why is he fighting for a roster spot?
Because Taylor's body hasn't been healthy, and the 49ers need players who will stay healthy for an entire season. If Taylor returns healthy, he's a lock to make the team and would be a nice weapon to have on third downs. Trent Taylor would give the 49ers a different style of receiver on the roster.
Five foot surgeries later, can he bounce back? Again, he was the best receiver in 2019 training camp, but is relying on Taylor a good thing?
Jalen Hurd is a second-year player that the 49ers drafted in the third round in 2019. He's almost a lock to make the roster, but again health is wealth and what has kept him off the field dating back to college. How would it look if Shanahan and John Lynch drafted a player who doesn't even play a snap for them?
I think Hurd makes the roster and has a specialized role on the team, a do-it-all player who can be lined up at receiver, running back or tight end. Can Hurd return from a stress fracture in his back? He looks back to normal in the social-media posts he's been in.
Dante Pettis had a solid rookie year, then a sophomore slump and landed deep in Shanahan's dog house. From what I have seen and heard, Pettis has gained some needed weight and has been working hard this offseason. He could work his way into receiver 2 or 3 -- he's that talented. He just needs to get his mind right. I think Shanahan hopes Pettis comes back as the Pettis from his rookie year, which would allow the 49ers to have Samuel, Aiyuk and Pettis on the field at the same time. Could be a solid receiver core.
Richie James and Jauan Jennings could be the main fight for the last spot in the receiver room. Richie James hasn't been used much as a receiver, but has shown flashes of big-play ability but on a super limited number of receptions and reps. James has mainly been a special-teams returner. He's replaceable as a returner.
Jennings is a late-round pick from the 2020 draft. He could be a security option for what Shanahan wants to do with Hurd. Jennings is a better receiver than James and would provide more than James due to being a red-zone threat and a special-teams gunner on kick off and punt coverage.
If the 49ers keep six receivers, they will be Deebo Samuel, Kendrick Bourne, Brandon Aiyuk, Trent Taylor, Dante Pettis, Jalen Hurd.
If the 49ers keep seven receivers, they will be Deebo Samuel, Kendrick Bourne, Brandon Aiyuk, Trent Taylor, Dante Pettis, and Jauan Jennings.
The 49ers are relying on injured players, two rookies, a second-year player, two players in their third year who haven't provided much, a fourth-year player who can excel in the offense but needs to stay healthy, and a fourth-year undrafted player who has exceeded expectations.