PHOENIX -- The San Francisco 49ers have a polarizing group of wide receivers. The group is filled mostly with promise and potential while being thin on actual NFL production. Jordan Matthews, so far, is the lone newcomer to a room filled with incumbents. The team could spend one of its six draft picks on a receiver. There's also sure to be an undrafted free agent or two that will join the roster.
Kyle Shanahan held court for an hour on Tuesday at the annual head coaches breakfast from the NFL's owner's meetings. Much of the conversation centered around who will be catching passes for the 49ers in 2019. Here are Shanahan's thoughts on the prominent names on the roster.
Let's start with the team's free-agent signee. Matthews immediately became the most productive wide receiver in the room. He owns 270 career receptions for 3,255 yards and 22 touchdowns. He's just one of two 49ers receivers to have 1,000 career receiving yards, which speaks to how much San Francisco is banking on its young talent taking a step forward next season.
Matthews adds a veteran presence, and Shanahan sees a receiver that is still getting better each year.
"He’s bounced around a little in this league," Shanahan said. "I think he’s gotten better each year in this league just studying him and I think his skill set adds something to our group. He’s a bigger receiver who has good hands, very smart receiver and he also can run."
Matthews has spent a lot of time in the slot during his career. Shanahan said that Matthews' 6-foot-3 frame, while untraditional for a slot receiver, can give him an advantage against zone coverage in the middle of the field.
The 49ers head coach said that Taylor exceeded expectations as a rookie, posting 43 catches for 430 yards and two touchdowns. Taylor was a go-to target on third down and has several clutch receptions in crunch time. Unfortunately, he took a step back in 2018 following offseason back surgery. Taylor spent his entire offseason rehabbing and never truly reached 100 percent last season.
Taylor has stuck around the Bay Area to continue his rehab this offseason, and it sounds like the 49ers slot receiver is back to full strength.
"I'm very hopeful for Trent to come back," Shanahan said. "Right now, he's around all the time. I see him outside my office on the field working out every single day. He wasn't here this time last year. He decided to stay here this year. He's healthy. He's going in the right direction, and he'll give himself a chance to be like his rookie year."
The Washington product tantalized 49ers fans during an impressive four-game run in the back half of 2018. During that stretch, Pettis posted 17 receptions for 338 yards and four touchdowns. Those numbers account for nearly all of Pettis' production as a rookie.
"Dante had a typical rookie year where he had some good games and some good plays, but a lot of ups and downs," Shanahan said. "He battled through some injuries early on which I thought set him back, but the way he finished the year was very exciting. He got a lot more opportunities at the end of the year. He earned those opportunities.
"You always want to see how guys do when they're out there, and he got better, he didn't get worse. ... He got better with experience, and I think that really helped him going into this offseason. I'm pumped to see him here in about a month."
James spent most of his rookie season as a return man on special teams. He caught nine passes for 130 yards and one touchdown, including a 53-yard reception.
"I think he has a chance to excel in that slot role, but Richie has the speed and strength in his game to play all three of the positions," Shanahan said of James.
Shanahan covered these two together. Both players have shown play-making capabilities but have struggled with consistency. Goodwin remains the top deep threat on the roster while Bourne excels at creating separation off of the line of scrimmage.
"They've done some good things for us," Shanahan said. "They helped us. I also want them to continue to get better. You know, there hasn't been a consistency. At times, they've played at a high level. They've been out there a lot as starting receivers, which I don't think always needs to be the case. I think we can get other guys in there to take the pressure off of them."
Other receivers stepping up would allow Shanahan to deploy Goodwin and Bourne more specifically within their respective areas of expertise.