Now that Julio Jones is on the Tennessee Titans, the San Francisco 49ers wide receiver room looks to be set for 2021. There is still time for a veteran addition prior to the start of training camp, but it is becoming pretty slim pickings.
The 49ers wide receiver room in Santa Clara currently consists of Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel and 11 other players. Of the eleven other players, only three -- Mohamed Sanu, Richie James Jr, and Bennie Fowler -- have been somewhat productive the past two seasons. As a whole, the group of 10 has combined for 1,671 yards, and 5 touchdowns on 167 receptions.
The group of 11 consists of the following: Mohamed Sanu, Richie James Jr, Bennie Fowler, Trent Sherfield, River Cracraft, Travis Benjamin, Jalen Hurd, Jauan Jennings, Kevin White and rookie Austin Watkins.
Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel are the only two sure things to make the final roster. With the 49ers usually carrying six wide receivers, this is an all too early look at who the other four to make the active roster will be.
Richie James Jr. – Each time that Kyle Shanahan has given an opportunity for James to perform, the three-year veteran has stepped up. This makes one wonder about the lack of opportunities for James.
One possible explanation for the lack of playing time for James is that at 5’9”, he is just too small for what Shanahan is looking for in the third wide receiver role that was held down by Kendrick Bourne the last two seasons. At 6’1”, Bourne provide a much more physical presence and showed the ability to not only come up with key receptions, but block well in the run game as well.
Despite the lack of size, James has proven to be a threat when given the opportunity and should be in line to make the team in the final year of his rookie contract.
Jalen Hurd – Hurd has seen only one quarter of one preseason game since the 49ers used a 2018 third round draft pick to acquire the former Baylor and Tennessee product. At 6’4”, 230 pounds, Hurd possesses the big body that Shanahan covets from the third receiver position.
If healthy, Hurd could provide a great deal of flexibility to the 49ers offense. Hurd spent his first three collegiate seasons playing running back at Tennessee before transferring to Baylor and moving to wide receiver. Even with the position change, Hurd carried the ball 48 times in 12 games at Baylor.
Look for Hurd to stay healthy through training camp and become the third wide receiver and second tight end in the 49ers offense for 2021.
Jauan Jennings – Coming in at 6’3” and 212 pounds, the 2020 seventh round draft pick is another size fit for the 49ers. With no organized team activities before training camp, Jennings struggled last year. Jennings was left off the roster, but the 49ers were able to sign him to the practice squad. He was making strides towards being promoted to the active roster before being sidelined for the season with an injury in late October.
Early reports from OTA’s this season have been very positive for Jennings. Look for Jennings to continue to improve throughout the summer and make the final roster due this, as well as his ability to play special teams.
Travis Benjamin – The final roster spot will come down to Benjamin and Mohamed Sanu. Both veterans have experience under Kyle Shanahan, but it will be Benjamin getting the nod due to his explosiveness and ability to return punts.
Benjamin has averaged just over 15 yards per reception and nearly 11 yards per punt return, taking four back for a touchdown throughout his career. The 49ers have struggled with punt returns in recent years and Benjamin could help the offense out by providing better field position.