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Why an Elite Wide Receiver Might Not Be the 49ers Biggest Offseason Need

Posted Jan 9, 2018

Andrew Hawkins gives his take on why the 49ers have positions of need greater than wide receiver.

What are the San Francisco 49ers top four positions of need?

Most would answer that question, in no particular order, with cornerback, edge rusher, wide receiver and interior offensive line. Filling those voids is clearly easier said than done as there’s no telling who is going to be available in free agency, the draft or a trade. The 49ers have plenty of cash to burn in addition to a top 10 pick, but they’re not going to overspend on players.

But for the sake of this conversation, let’s say that an elite player at each position becomes available this offseason. How would you prioritize those four positions? That was the hypothetical posed to former NFL wide receiver Andrew Hawkins in the latest 49ers Studios Podcast.

“I would probably go edge rusher, corner, receiver and then guard,” Hawkins said.

Really? A No. 1 receiver as the third spot on that list? No bias from a six-year NFL wideout?

“I’d maybe even put (receiver) No. 4,” Hawkins said. “Very rarely do teams with a top wide receiver win the Super Bowl. That’s just not what it takes. I think you can find good receivers (everywhere). The top guys are not Super Bowl winners. Over the last 15 years, you can look at the teams with top wide receivers, and they don’t win Super Bowls. I don’t think that’s a coincidence, because I think it’s more of a chemistry thing. When you have that big time receiver who commands the ball so much, or you’re trying to get him the ball in certain situations, I think it kind of hurts the chemistry of the offense.”

That sounds like blasphemy until you go back and look at the Super Bowl-winning rosters. Over the last five years, Demaryius Thomas is arguably the only prototype wide receiver to win a Super Bowl. And yet, everyone would argue that it was the Denver Broncos defense that carried that team to a championship. You could also make a case for Doug Baldwin as the best receiver to hoist a Lombardi Trophy during that time span, but that only validates Hawkins’ argument as Baldwin went undrafted.

Look at the New England Patriots dynasty under Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. None of Brady’s five Super Bowl Championships came with Randy Moss on the roster. Moss, Terrell Owens, Chad Johnson, Dez Bryant, Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Andre Johnson and Calvin Johnson are a few Hall of Fame caliber receivers to have never won a Super Bowl.

This should go without saying, but obviously this isn’t to suggest that those receivers weren’t special. Every team would want those guys on their roster in a heartbeat. But look at it through this lens: If you had the choice between any of those receivers and Von Miller, it’s possible that most general managers would take Miller.

That’s why Hawkins said that Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch might not be prioritizing an alpha male wide receiver over the team’s other positions of need.

“You need certain pieces in Shanahan’s offense,” said Hawkins, who played under Shanahan with the Cleveland Browns in 2014. “He needs a speed guy. He needs a guy who is faster than everybody else on the field. That’s a big part of his offense. He needs a tough guy. He needs a guy who is going to catch the ball over the middle, be tough as nails and be a little versatile. He needs a third down guy, who has great hands and will, under any circumstance, can move the sticks.”

It quickly becomes more and more evident how strategic the 49ers were last offseason. The speed of Marquise Goodwin, toughness of Pierre Garçon and dependability of Trent Taylor make them necessary cogs in Shanahan’s offense. But Hawkins very specifically didn’t mention the need to a 6-foot-5 specimen.

Hawkins used the 2014 Browns as an example to further his point. Cleveland jumped out to a 7-4 record with what was labeled as the worst receiving core in all of football. It was guys like Hawkins, Taylor Gabriel and Travis Benjamin who helped the Browns put up more than 20 points in nine of those 11 games. Furthermore, Josh Gordon only played in one of those contests.

The conclusion is this: While the 49ers could use a stud pass catcher in the red zone, it’s not a guarantee that they’re willing to spend a top 10 draft pick or $15 million in free agency to acquire such skill set.

Now, that’s just one man’s opinion and while it may not alter your beliefs, it remains good food for thought as the 49ers enter what should be a very captivating offseason.

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