What will the 49ers’ wide-receiver depth chart look like Week 1 of the 2020 season?
Here’s my best guess:
1. Deebo Samuel.
2. Brandon Aiyuk.
3. Jalen Hurd.
4. Trent Taylor.
5. Travis Benjamin.
6. Jauan Jennings.
7. Dante Pettis.
Released: Kendrick Bourne and Richie James Jr.
Samuel: The 49ers’ undisputed No. 1 wide receiver. When the 49ers use formations with two tight ends, two running backs and just one wide receiver, Samuel will be the one wide receiver. He most likely will lead this group in targets, catches, yards and rushing attempts next season.
Aiyuk: The 49ers expect Aiyuk to replace Emmanuel Sanders. Meaning the 49ers expect Aiyuk to become the No. 2 wide receiver right away. He’ll run lots of slant routes and catch plenty of screens, because he specializes at gaining yards after the catch. He also most likely will return punts and kickoffs.
Hurd: The 49ers drafted Hurd in the third round last year. They’re invested in him and they like him. He fractured his back during the preseason and missed his entire rookie year, but John Lynch said Hurd played “lights out” before he went down. If he stays healthy, he’ll be the favorite to become the No. 3 receiver and primary slot guy.
Taylor: Hasn’t been completely healthy since 2017, but still is Jimmy Garoppolo’s favorite wide receiver on the roster. When Taylor was healthy last year during training camp, he caught more passes from Garoppolo than any other player, even more than All Pro tight end George Kittle. Taylor broke his foot toward the end of camp and missed the entire season, but if he stays healthy throughout camp this year, he’ll make the team and split time with Hurd in the slot.
Benjamin: The 49ers most likely will want a veteran wide receiver, and Benjamin is 30. Plus he’s a legitimate deep threat who runs a 4.36 40-yard dash, which makes him unique on the 49ers, because they traded Marquise Goodwin to the Eagles and let Emmanuel Sanders sign with the Saints. Benjamin also returns punts.
Jennings: If the 49ers were to cut him at the end of training camp, he would have to clear waivers before he could join the 49ers’ practice squad. And there’s no guarantee Jennings would clear waivers. And the 49ers clearly want him -- that’s why they drafted him in the seventh round instead of waiting to sign him as an undrafted free agent. Jennings has a good chance to make the team as a rookie.
Pettis: Probably doesn’t deserve to be on the team, but the 49ers traded up to take him in the second round of the 2018 draft. Cutting him two years later would mean Kyle Shanahan made a giant mistake trading up for Pettis. And Shanahan doesn’t seem to like being wrong. So I’m guessing he’ll try to salvage Pettis’ career.
Bourne: Good player, but the 49ers never spent a draft pick on him. Bourne is a former undrafted free agent, so the 49ers aren’t invested in him. And he’s the highest-paid wide receiver on the team -- he’s scheduled to earn $3.3 million in 2020. If he doesn’t take a big pay cut, I’m guessing the 49ers will trade him or cut him before the regular season.
James: Another good player the 49ers aren’t heavily invested in. The 49ers took James in the seventh round of the 2018 NFL Draft, and they rarely let him play offense. He’s a return specialist. And the Aiyuk most likely will take that job next season. Meaning James probably will find his name among the 49ers’ final cuts.