Every day leading up to the start of training camp set for July 28, 49ers.com will assess each position group on the roster as we get closer to the season. In this installment, we will address San Francisco's wide receiver corps and with players returning from injury, how the position could shake out heading into Week 1 of the regular season.
San Francisco's wide receivers are one of the most intriguing position groups heading into training camp. The 49ers boast a group of young and talented pass-catchers, however the unit is relatively unproven. Outside of Travis Benjamin, no 49ers receiver has played more than three NFL seasons. Additionally, only Benjamin and Deebo Samuel have amassed more than 500 receiving yards in a single season.
In addition to the young talent acquired through the draft, the 49ers are also expecting the return of several young receivers who are making their way back from injury. Given the effects of an abbreviated offseason, how will this year impact the development of the 49ers young receiving corps? Who steps up in the absence of Emmanuel Sanders and potentially, Samuel? Will 49ers returning from injury be ready to go by Week 1? With a surplus of talent, how many receivers do the 49ers keep on their roster in 2020?
- Brandon Aiyuk (1st Season)
- Travis Benjamin (9th Season)
- Kendrick Bourne (4th Season)
- Chris Finke (1st Season)
- Jalen Hurd (2nd Season)
- Richie James Jr. (3rd Season)
- Jauan Jennings (1st Season)
- Dante Pettis (3rd Season)
- Shawn Poindexter (2nd Season)
- Deebo Samuel (2nd Season)
- Trent Taylor (4th Season)
- Chris Thompson (2nd Season)
It wasn't the ideal start for San Francisco's young group of receivers. Injuries quickly plagued the 49ers season as Trent Taylor and Jalen Hurd, two players who were expected to play major roles in 2019, suffered injuries that eventually placed both wideouts on Injured Reserve early in the year. The 49ers were forced to rely on their young group of pass catchers who helped lead the team to an 8-0 start to the season.
The 49ers received a midseason boost with the acquisition of Emmanuel Sanders in Week 8, who complemented San Francisco's young core of wideouts. Prior to Sanders' arrival, the 49ers averaged 187.7 yards per game. Following the trade, San Francisco saw that number jump to 266.4 yards per game. San Francisco's passing offense went on to average 237.0 yards per game last season, ranked 13th in the league, aiding the team's 4th-overall ranked offense.
Wide Receiver Breakdown
Brandon Aiyuk: The 49ers moved up six spots in the draft to select Aiyuk with the 25th-overall pick. During two seasons at Arizona State, Ayiuk appeared in 25 games and registered 98 receptions for 1,666 yards and 11 touchdowns, in addition to returning 28 kickoff returns for 760 yards (27.1 average) and 25 punt returns for 293 yards (11.7 average) and one touchdown on special teams. Aiyuk led the nation in yards after the catch, averaging 9.9 yards. With the loss of Sanders, the 49ers are hopeful the rookie can become a threat at all levels of the field.
Travis Benjamin: The veteran wideout joined the 49ers in free agency after spending time under Kyle Shanahan with the Cleveland Browns in 2014. Benjamin's most productive season came in his final season with the Browns, where the receiver posted 966 yards on 68 receptions and five touchdowns. His standout season prompted a four-year deal with the Los Angeles Chargers the ensuing season. Benjamin is known for his blazing speed, recording a 4.36 40-yard dash time during the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine. He fits the bill as an ideal speedy slot option in Shanahan's offense.
Kendrick Bourne: In his third season in San Francisco, Bourne hauled in 30 catches for 358 yards and tied for the team lead with a career-high five touchdowns. He appeared in 44 percent of offensive snaps last season and was an effective option in the red zone. According to Pro Football Focus, Bourne was targeted eight times inside the 20-yard line last season, and he caught seven of those targets for five touchdowns. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo owned an impressive 121.1 passer rating when targeting Bourne last season.
Chris Finke: The 5-foot-9 receiver went undrafted out of Notre Dame before signing with the 49ers this offseason. Finke appeared in 49 games (10 starts) with the Fighting Irish and registered 106 receptions for 1,251 yards and eight touchdowns along with 63 punt returns for 532 yards. In 2019, he played in all 13 games (nine starts) and registered 31 receptions for 456 yards and four touchdowns.
Jalen Hurd: The 49ers expected Hurd to become another offensive weapon-type player in Shanahan's system that could line up all over the field. He spent time as a running back at Tennessee before transitioning to wide receiver at Baylor. His 6-foot-5, 230-pound frame is ideal as a red zone threat given Hurd's size and power. Following a promising preseason debut in 2019, Hurd suffered a stress fracture in his back and missed the entire 2019 season. Hurd was cleared for football activities this past April and has spent the offseason under the supervision of the team's staff. According to general manager John Lynch, the team isn't "overly optimistic" given the possibility of any potential setbacks.
Richie James Jr.: James Jr.'s time was limited on offense as the bulk of his duties were as the 49ers primary return specialist in 2019. He saw 10 targets last season and amassed 165 receiving yards and a touchdown on offense. Despite the low number of targets, he averaged 27.5 yards per catch, with three of his six receptions extending 39 yards or more last season. James Jr. suffered a broken wrist this offseason. His timetable for return will be further assessed when the team returns to training camp next week.
Jauan Jennings: San Francisco drafted the big-bodied, physical pass catcher in the seventh round of April's draft. During his time at Tennessee, Jennings amassed 2,153 receiving yards and 19 total touchdowns. His final season with the Vols, Jennings led the team with 1,020 scrimmage yards (969 receiving) for a career-high 16.4 yards per reception and nine total touchdowns. According to PFF, Jennings led all college receivers with 30 broken tackles on 59 catches and averaged 8.0 yards after the catch last season, a trait Shanahan emphasizes with his pass catchers.
Dante Pettis: The 49ers were hoping to grow Pettis' role in 2019 after averaging over 17 yards per reception and notching five touchdowns his rookie season. Instead, he was limited to just 11 receptions for 109 yards and two scores last season while appearing in 11 games. The 49ers hope the wideout can get out of a funk heading into Year 3 and assume a larger role. With the amount of inexperience and recent injuries among San Francisco's pass-catchers, Pettis could be in line for a bigger workload pending his training camp performance.
Shawn Poindexter: One of the 49ers tallest receivers, standing 6-foot-5, 218 pounds, Poindexter went undrafted out of Arizona last offseason before signing with San Francisco. The receiver suffered a torn ACL in the preseason win over the Denver Broncos last August. Since, he's been seen rehabbing, and more recently, running on his surgically repaired knee.
Deebo Samuel: Samuel was one of the league's most impressive rookies last season and one of the best receivers in the league after the catch, according to PFF. Samuel ranked fifth in the league with 484 yards after the catch during the regular season, averaging 8.5 yards, second among qualifying wide receivers. Also, his 18 broken tackles after the catch were tied for first at his position. Samuel was second on the team in targets (81), receptions (57) and yards (802), only behind George Kittle and registered the second-most receptions and receiving yards in a season by a 49ers rookie. Garoppolo garnered a passer rating of 120.0 when targeting Samuel, the second highest on the team behind Bourne.
Expected to take on a larger load in 2020 with the loss of Sanders, the wideout suffered a stress fracture in his foot this offseason and is expected to miss 12-16 weeks. Like James Jr., the 49ers will have more clarity on his timeline when the team returns for training camp.
Trent Taylor: The 49ers suffered a blow to their offense last season after a fractured bone in Taylor's foot derailed his promising 2019 season. Taylor was coming off of a standout training camp before having to undergo five different surgeries due to complications. San Francisco hasn't seen much of Taylor as the receiver is coming off of two injury-plagued seasons. Prior to his stress fracture, Taylor was dealing with on-going effects from offseason back surgery in 2018.
He was recently seen running and making explosive cuts during an offseason workout on his Instagram. The 49ers are hopeful the shifty wideout can return to form from his promising rookie campaign as a favorite go-to target of Garoppolo's.
Chris Thompson: Thompson originally entered the NFL after signing with the Houston Texans as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Florida back in 2017 and landed on the team's practice squad that fall. He was promoted to the Texans active roster a month later and went on to appear in 13 games and register five receptions for 84 yards, in addition to six tackles on special teams. In 2018, he spent the majority of training camp with the Texans prior to being waived during 53-man roster cuts. Thompson played for the Orlando Apollos of the now-defunct Alliance of American Football before being signed to the 49ers practice squad in December.