Lack of Vertical Threat Caps 49ers Offense

Jose Luis Sanchez III

Travis Benjamin is the first player of the 49ers to opt out for the 2020 season. 

Now that he is gone, the 49ers do not have a wide receiver that can act as a vertical threat. Benjamin wasn’t a lock to make the 49ers roster since his contract hardly had any impact on the salary cap should he be cut. 

However, I was fully expecting him to make it based solely on the fact that Kyle Shanahan could finally have a deep-threat receiver. Marquise Goodwin was always there, but he didn’t do anything well outside of being fast. All the 49ers have now are receivers who excel within 20 yards of the line of scrimmage. 

The lack of a vertical threat caps the 49ers’ offense. 

I’m not saying the offense will not be dangerous or unsuccessful this season. They’ll definitely still be a phenomenal unit as they showed last season. 

However, Shanahan is a mad genius because of how creative he is with calling plays and utilizing his players. By not having a receiver capable of going deep, it’s not fully maximizing his genius. 

That extra wrinkle that Benjamin would have provided could have came in handy in certain situations. He at least would have made the opposition play honest to a degree since they would have to respect his vertical threat. By doing that, other receivers could run under him and do what they do best by racking up yards after the catch. 

Without a speedster, Shanahan isn’t able to be 100-percent effective. It’s more like he’s 90 percent or 95 percent. Deep pass plays are not a staple in his offense anyways. Shanahan wants to attack the middle of the middle within 20 yards to allow the receivers to do damage with the ball in their hands. It is so key for this offense to click when Jimmy Garoppolo is hitting his receivers in stride. 

So like I said, it isn’t a major deal-breaker that they do not have a vertical threat in their arsenal. But it’s like putting regular oil in a corvette instead of synthetic. It’ll run, but not at an optimal level. Should a defense crowd the field within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, there isn't an option available to take a shot to heat check the defense.

So where do the 49ers go from here? 

They could just stick with what they got. The wide-receiver room was already crowded as it was. But depth is needed so much more in 2020 due to the pandemic. San Francisco could dip their hands back into the free-agency pool and see who is a capable vertical threat. 

Paul Richardson is one player that comes to mind, or maybe even Taylor Gabriel. I know he’s not a real speed demon, but Shanahan sure does love bringing in familiar faces. Either way, the 49ers are not hitting their ceiling on offense without a wide receiving deep threat. 

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Comments (5)
No. 1-5

Thinking more about this, two running backs could also be a vertical threat in the passing game. Mostert is arguably the fastest on the team right now at 4.32 and Mckinnon is no slouch at 4.41. Mostert has dropped a few passes and hopefully has worked on this in the offseason. McKinnon has the hands of a wide receiver. Shanahan is probably figuring out right now how to send these two (maybe at the same time) downfield. It is a pleasantly terrifying thought.


Certainly limits the playbook a little. Will be interested to see what Shanahan will do with Ayuik.


Aiyuk will provide that deep threat we need. I get what you are saying though because Bourne is slow and only catches TDs inside 10 yards and Deebo wasn’t much of a threat deep he was mainly getting his big plays on YAC. Hurd won’t be much of a deep threat either. Richie James could be a deep threat but he doesn’t get that many chances to play. James averaged 27.5 yards a catch last year.


"according to Next Gen Stats, only three NFL players had faster run times last season than Aiyuk during his senior year". If the 49ers are tying to hide this it won't work. Let's hope Brandon stays healthy


Vertical stretch is clearly an issue, because without it the safeties can focus on helping out in the box where the 49er play action is freezing the LBs. Goodwin is a great guy but went AWOL last year making Garoppolo look weak deep. My take on Aiyuk at ASU, before the draft, is that he is eerily like Jerry Rice. Nobody catches him from behind no matter what stopwatches say. This is a GPS speed measurement. He’ll embarrass the backend of a defense which is even better than world class speed for intimidation. When he starts producing is anybody’s guess