The wide receiver position has been a hot topic this offseason amongst 49ers fans. The popular theme has been “the 49ers need a big red zone threat,” or “the 49ers need a No. 1 receiver.” What is a “No. 1 receiver” to you?
In my opinion, a No. 1 receiver isn’t a certain size. He is not a certain speed. A No. 1 receiver to me is someone who you can run the offense through. Someone you can move around and rely on to make plays when it counts. Traits I’d look for in a top receiver: separation, good route runner, catches the ball away from his body, someone who knows how to score and someone who gets yards after catch.
What if I told you the 49ers have someone that has flashed all of these traits? Yes, look no further than second year receiver Kendrick Bourne.
Due to some weird graduation rule, the undrafted receiver out of Eastern Washington missed all of OTAs, a “volunteer” workout period where players spend a couple months learning the playbook and working out. It’s a great time for rookies to get acclimated to the NFL and learn the offense or defense. Kyle Shanahan’s offense has the reputation for being a difficult one to grasp year one, so missing time put Bourne behind the eight ball.
I’m not big on names. I’m not big flashy draft picks. I’m big on ability. And Bourne in his short stint with the 49ers has shown the ability to be a very good receiver.
The first thing that jumps out to me is his ability to get yards after catch. Can the receiver turn a five-yard catch into 20 yards? Can he turn a 15-yard catch into 50 yards? Kendrick Bourne can.
It started in preseason when Bourne ran a stutter and go. His smooth route running caused the defensive back to fall and Bourne did the rest. Making another defensive back miss before going into the end zone.
You might say, “Well, that was in the preseason. Can he do it when it counts?” The answer to that is, yes. Down one with six minutes left in the game against the Titans, Jimmy Garoppolo connected with Bourne 10 yards downfield and Bourne turned that into 54 yards.
On smaller scale against the Texans, by knifing up field, Bourne again showed the ability to turn a routine five-yard catch into a 20 yard gain.
Bourne was excellent against the press, especially running slants. Creating separation with foot fire chatters on his release against Jaguars top tier defensive back Jalen Ramsey and Titans stand out rookie Adoree Jackson.
Something that stood out to me the most on the catch against Jackson was how he caught the ball away from his body over the middle.
Bourne did most of his work on the outside, but another thing I look for in a go-to receiver is if he can line up in multiple spots. Bourne did work out of the slots showing his understanding of defenses, and settling down in the open areas of zones.
Bourne’s only two scores came in preseason. Most fans want a big body receiver to throw jump balls to. Catching fade balls is a skill. 6-foot-1 Michael Crabtree is one of the best fade ball pass catchers in the NFL. Bourne can catch the fade ball if given the opportunity.
Fit with 49ers:
Kendrick Bourne is very intriguing to me. Because he went undrafted, he doesn’t command the respect from fans as someone who can become a No. 1 guy. He possesses all the traits needed to be successful in the NFL, and an extreme work ethic to go with it. I believe with a full offseason Shanahan will maximize his versatility. Hopefully he continues to grow with Garoppolo and becomes someone the quarterback can rely on.
There have been several lower-round picks who did not make a huge splash initially but went on to have very good careers. Two come to mind. First, Antonio Brown. He had a 16-catch, 167-yard rookie season and broke out in year two with 69 catches for 1,108 yards. The second is former Bills standout receiver Stevie Johnson. He combined for 12 catches over his first two years in the league and exploded in his third season to the tune of 82 catches for 1,073 yards.
All the ability and traits are there. So I ask, "Why not Bourne?"
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