Kendrick Bourne turned heads last year when he posted four catches for 85 yards in the San Francisco 49ers Week 15 win against the Tennessee Titans. The game marked the highlight of Bourne's rookie season and indicated to fans that their team has an interesting young receiver on its hands.
John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan already knew this, of course. That's why the 49ers couldn't risk cutting Bourne in August. The risk was too great that another team would scoop Bourne up before he made it to San Francisco's practice squad. Bourne appeared in 11 games in 2017, catching 16 passes for 257 yards. His role and production grew down the stretch following an injury to Pierre Garçon and the insertion of Jimmy Garoppolo into the starting lineup.
Fast-forward to the end of the offseason program and Bourne is looking like a potential difference maker in 2018. He flashed at nearly every practice that was open to the media.
"Growth is a great word for it," Garoppolo said. "This offseason (Kendrick) has made some great strides. I think our whole receiver corps as a group has really come a long way."
It's hard to know what to make of offseason standouts. Ultimately, Bourne's performances make him a player to watch when the pads come on during training camp. But that doesn't mean you can't call a spade a spade: Bourne was very impressive over the course of the last two months.
In particular, Bourne seems to have a fantastic rapport with Garoppolo. You'd often hear Garoppolo shouting out "K.B." during practice. The two also got in extra work together following the final practice of minicamp a few weeks back.
"He brings a lot of different traits to the table that it's hard for a defender to cover him," Garoppolo said. "He's deceptively fast but at the same time, he has some wiggle to him. It's a nice combination, and he does a great job of catching the ball. I don't know how many drops he's had all of OTAs, I don't want to jinx him, but he's done a great job for me."
Bourne impressed at last year's rookie minicamp as an undrafted free agent out of Eastern Washington. Unfortunately, an old NFL rule prohibited rookies from joining their team's offseason program if their alma mater was on a quarter academic calendar. The rule has since been repealed, but it hindered Bourne all the same.
The time away put him behind the eight ball in Shanahan's offense. Still, Bourne worked hard to get up to speed and make himself a reliable option on gameday.
"He's a very talented football player," receivers coach Mike LaFleur said. "He's got very good hands. He's got very good range. He was a little behind when he got here (for training camp). It took him a little bit longer. We did a lot of extra meetings with him and stuff like that. It showed up in the back half of the season."
Bourne is one of the most energetic players at practice. He's constantly bobbing to the music or getting hyped with his teammates. That personality has been evident since he joined the 49ers last spring.
He's getting reps at multiple receiver spots. Bourne's biggest competition for playing time on gameday will be Dante Pettis. Both guys will be likely vying for reps behind Garçon, Marquise Goodwin and Trent Taylor.
"He's never lacked confidence, ever," LaFleur said. "I think you guys can see that with his personality. That energy he brings every day – you can tell this is fun for him. He's loving what he's doing, and he's putting a lot of time into it."