The San Francisco 49ers offseason addition of Marquise Goodwin was based primarily on metrics and projection. Put simply, Goodwin could run like the wind but the rest of his game was mostly a mystery.
Goodwin's four seasons with the Buffalo Bills were spent primarily as a deep-threat specialist. If he wasn't running a go route, he was usually on the sideline. The limited role kept Goodwin's numbers modest. He came to San Francisco with just 49 career receptions for 780 yards and six touchdowns.
But Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch saw the former Olympian as a ball of clay, capable of becoming a complete receiver. They targeted Goodwin in free agency and immediately penciled the speedster into the 49ers starting lineup.
"There wasn't a ton of routes you could see him do," Shanahan said on Monday in regards to Goodwin's tape with the Bills. "His route tree was pretty limited and how he had been used. But, he's a guy who has the ability to do a lot of things. We've challenged him since he's been here, running a bunch of different stuff, moving him to different spots, inside the numbers, which he'd really never been before."
San Francisco looked to have hit a home run immediately. Goodwin was a daily star during training camp and provided the top highlight of the preseason, a 46-yard touchdown catch against the Minnesota Vikings starting secondary. However, the beginning of the regular season brought a few bumps in the road. Goodwin had a costly drop on San Francisco's first possession of the year against the Carolina Panthers. A third-down drop in the fourth quarter doomed the 49ers the following week against the Seattle Seahawks.
But Goodwin made steady progress. His 116-yard outburst in Week 5 against the Indianapolis Colts set a new single-game career-high. Goodwin posted four receptions for 80 yards two weeks later against the Indianapolis Colts.
After Pierre Garçon was placed on Injured Reserve in Week 9, Goodwin became San Francisco's de-facto No. 1 receiver among an inexperienced group of pass catchers. An 83-yard touchdown against the New York Giants in Week 10 has been the defining moment of Goodwin's first season in San Francisco thus far. Since that moment, he's done nothing but produce for the 49ers.
Goodwin averaged 102.5 yards in the 49ers back-to-back road wins in Weeks 13 and 14 against the Chicago Bears and Houston Texans, respectively.
"He's done some good things for us all year, but when he came out and had that big catch versus the Giants, helped us to our first win, and then he came back and has had two good weeks in a row right now," Shanahan said. "It hasn't just been on Sunday, which has been the neat thing. We've seen a difference in practice, just how he's carried himself all week. I really feel like he's taken a step forward in the second half of the season."
Goodwin has already set a new career high with 783 yards in 2017 and has a legit shot at his first 1,000-yard season. He needs to average 72.33 yards over San Francisco's final three contests to get there. Doing so would make him only the third 49ers receiver to reach the plateau since 2003 (Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin x2).
His odds at the milestone are aided by his growing chemistry with Jimmy Garoppolo. Goodwin has been Garoppolo's go-to guy over the last two games as he's averaged double digit targets. What's most impressive is the variety of routes that have led to Goodwin's 14 receptions during that time span. His growing route tree is evidence that San Francisco's projection of Goodwin is taking form.
"That's what we believed he could be, and I still believe he can be more," Shanahan said. "I never feel people fully arrive. I always feel you can do better. Some people could look at that as being hard on people, but I think it's because I believe in people. I think Marquise can always do better, and I think he's showing that right now. And I think his ceiling is extremely high.
"He has the speed that scares people. He can break down very well. His hands are much better than people realize. He's a tough guy who's not scared to compete and scared to go over the middle."
Many expect San Francisco to add a wide receiver this offseason in either free agency or the draft. Goodwin will be in the mix for sure, but he'll likely have to battle to keep his full-time role in the 49ers offense.
That's exactly the type of competition Shanahan is hoping for.
"I always say you get better or worse, you never stay the same. I'm really hoping he continues to get better next year," the coach said.