Heavily overshadowed by the news that All Pro linebacker Fred Warner signed a market-changing extension, and third-round rookie Trey Sermon inked his deal, the San Francisco 49ers bolstered their return game with the waiver claim of former Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Nsimba Webster.
The 5’10, 180-pound Webster’s standing on the Rams’ roster has been in doubt since the team selected Louisville wide receiver Tutu Atwell (5’9, 165) in the second round.
With no clear answer in the return game, Webster adds experience to the 49ers’ special teams (305 of 313 NFL snaps), with 12 tackles and 50 returns.
Webster will battle with Travis Benjamin, River Cracraft, Bennie Fowler, Jalen Hurd, Jauan Jennings, Andy Jones, Trent Sherfield, Austin Watkins Jr., Kevin White, and Mohamed Sanu for two-to-three of the final receiver spots, while also jostling for the return specialist role that has no clear answer.
The Antioch, California product (Deer Valley High School alum) was fourth in the NFL with 41 total kick and punt returns in 2020, averaging 7.4 yards per punt return and 21.7 per kick return. San Francisco had 9.0 yards per punt return and 19.3 per kick return in 2020.
Like most coaches, head coach Kyle Shanahan has shown a disdain for fumbles on returns, valuing sure-handed, rather vanilla returners over high-risk, high-reward options.
Webster has four fumbles (three recovered) in 21 career games. The 49ers had three fumbles on returns last season.
Webster is not far removed from a standout career with Eastern Washington, the same school that produced Kendrick Bourne and former teammate Cooper Kupp.
In 15 games his senior season, Webster had 1,379 yards and 11 touchdowns on 84 catches, and a punt return touchdown. In 44 career games with EWU (2015-2018), Webster averaged 50.8 receiving yards, 23.2 kick return yards and 18.3 punt return yards.
With little offensive experience (zero catches) Webster must impress on special teams to make the 49ers, but that competition is wide-open.
The acquisition pales in comparison to the rest of Wednesday’s breaking news, but it is an intriguing one to monitor this preseason.
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