Why Kendrick Bourne will be important to the 49ers' early-season success
While the San Francisco 49ers seem to have an exciting stable of wide receivers heading into the 2020 season, the truth is right now there are more questions than answers. How will Deebo Samuel respond with more attention on him in year two? Are Trent Taylor and Jalen Hurd finally healthy? How quickly can Brandon Aiyuk get up to speed?
Even if all the returns are positive, it's still safe to say Taylor, Hurd, and Aiyuk will need some time before they are able to fully hit their stride. That means the Niners will rely heavily on Samuel and fourth-year veteran Kendrick Bourne early on.
Despite being mostly a role player, Bourne has been one of the more productive wideouts for the 49ers the past couple of years. He was second on the team in 2018 in both catches (42) and yards (487), trailing only George Kittle in both departments.
Last year Bourne caught 30 balls for 358 yards, but made the most of his opportunities as 23 of those catches went for first downs (76.6%). For his career, 65 of his 88 career receptions have moved the chains (73.8%). By comparison, 56% of Samuel's 57 total receptions have gone for first downs.
Bourne found the end zone a total of nine times in 2018-2019, which doesn't seem like a lot, but only Kittle has caught more touchdown passes among 49ers players during that stretch (10). Bourne was also one of only two Niners to catch a touchdown pass in the 2019 postseason (Kyle Juszczyk was the other).
Given what he's accomplished, Bourne has clearly gained the trust of head coach Kyle Shanahan, as he ascended to the top of the depth chart late last year joining Samuel and Emmanuel Sanders as the team's top three receivers. Now, with Sanders in New Orleans, Bourne's role is more important than ever.
At this point, it'd be a safe bet to assume that Bourne is the favorite to start on the outside opposite Samuel, with the expectation that Aiyuk eventually earns more snaps as the season goes on. Until then, the 49ers will count on Bourne to provide a steady presence and be a reliable target for Jimmy Garoppolo when called upon.
Media courtesy Michael Zagaris