Heading into the 2019 season, the 49ers looked to bolster a young receiver corps around Jimmy Garoppolo, who would be returning from an ACL tear for a crucial upcoming season. With offseason acquisitions of veteran Jordan Matthews and draft picks Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd, it allowed the 49ers get bigger and tougher at the receiver position while remaining dynamic. Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch have added a plethora of receivers – and now the question is, “Who makes the 53-man roster?” We know for certain that three guys are safe: recent selections in Pettis, Samuel, and Hurd.
Outside of them, there are a lot of unknowns. Marquise Goodwin started his 49ers tenure off hot, finishing the 2017 season with more yards and catches than his previous four seasons in the league combined. His efforts landed him a contract extension, but an injury-riddled 2018 season left many question marks.
Trent Taylor battled a back injury that left him playing like a shell of himself. Kendrick Bourne led the 49ers receivers in yards and catches with a pedestrian 42 catches for 487 yards. Then there's Richie James, who flashed, but mostly contributed via special teams, including a big 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks. What I saw the first week of training camp: The most consistent receiver from camp was Trent Taylor. After practice Taylor spoke to the media and touched on how he stayed in the South Bay this offseason, secluding himself from family and friends, focusing on bettering himself as a receiver. The sacrifice looks to be paying off.
Taylor was virtually unstoppable out of the slot and has been the favorite receiver of all three quarterbacks.
The surprising receiver of them all has been Richie James. Over the first few days James had been the receiver they hoped Dante Pettis would be. Pettis has stepped up since then, but that doesn’t take from the big-play ability and crisp route running James displayed.
Bourne has continued to look impressive, too. People talk about developing players and Bourne has improved each season. Most view him as a bubble guy, but Bourne's made the most of each opportunity given during camp. Who makes the final 53: Earlier I mentioned guys I felt were locks (Pettis, Samuel, and Hurd). It’s the final three spots where things get interesting. In my way-too-early predictions, Taylor, Bourne, and James make the final cuts, leaving Marquise Goodwin and Jordan Matthews on the outside looking in. I chose to place Malik Henry on the practice squad while trading the veteran Goodwin to a receiver-needy team like the New York Giants. Why not Marquise Goodwin? Goodwin has an innate ability to stretch the field, but when deciding who made the final cut, I needed more. James not only stretches the field, he also has the ability to work underneath at a very high level. On top of that, he adds special teams value as a return man. James looks to be the more complete receiver and is also a 49ers draft pick. Goodwin’s inability to stay healthy also factored into this decision. Why not Jordan Matthews? It came down to Matthews or Bourne.
Through camp I watched the big-body receiver and he moved as such. Not as quick as Bourne, nor did he have the separation skills. I believe the 49ers wanted to improve on red-zone scoring with a bigger receiver, but as I mentioned before, Bourne has gotten better each season, including his red-zone abilities. A year ago, he led the 49ers receivers in red zone touchdowns with four. I’d look for Bourne to continue improving on those numbers as not only a red-zone threat, but a factor in all areas of the field. I will be keeping a close eye throughout training camp on this group as the battle for the six roster spots intensifies.
Media courtesy AP Images, San Francisco 49ers