49ers will be looking for receiver help
The 49ers’ starting wide receivers during training camp were Dante Pettis and Marquise Goodwin.
No wonder oddsmakers in Las Vegas predicted the 49ers would win only eight games.
Pettis and Goodwin flopped. The 49ers benched Pettis during camp, and then benched Goodwin after six games. Neither played at all after Week 9.
The 49ers seemed to have a debilitating weakness at a vital position, until rookie Deebo Samuel and third-year receiver Kendrick Bourne emerged midseason. Those two made Goodwin and Pettis irrelevant.
Samuel emerged as a dangerous offensive weapon who can run the ball and catch it. He finished the season with 1,190 yards from scrimmage. And Bourne emerged as the 49ers’ secret weapon. He never started a game, but caught a team-high six touchdown passes and developed a strong connection with Jimmy Garoppolo, whose passer rating when targeting Bourne was a whopping 113.7.
Bourne will be a restricted free agent in March, but the 49ers can match any contract offer he receives from another team. So he almost certainly will be on the 49ers next season.
Now they need a third wide receiver to emerge for 2020. Here are the 49ers’ options:
1. Emmanuel Sanders
The 49ers traded a third-round pick in the upcoming draft for Sanders at midseason. He instantly became a starter and the grownup in a young wide receiver room that needed a mentor. Both Samuel and Bourne have said Sanders helped them mature and improve.
But on the field, Sanders was inconsistent. He didn’t have a strong connection with Garoppolo, whose passer rating was a mediocre 86.3 when targeting Sanders. And Sanders was invisible in the playoffs —he caught just five passes for 71 yards in three postseason games. The 49ers stopped using him for long stretches.
Sanders will turn 33 next month and become a free agent. He earned more than $10 million last season, so he’ll be an expensive 33-year-old. The 49ers currently have less than $13 million in cap space. They probably can’t afford to re-sign Sanders.
2. Trent Taylor
Taylor might be Garoppolo’s favorite wide receiver on the team.
Those two developed an immediate rapport in 2017 when the 49ers traded for Garoppolo, and built on that rapport during training camp of 2019. Taylor caught more passes in camp than any other player on the offense, including All-Pro tight end George Kittle.
But Taylor broke his foot and missed the entire season. The previous year, 2018, he had back surgery and played poorly. He hasn’t been healthy since 2017, so the 49ers can’t count on him to play a major role. Anything he gives them is a bonus.
3. Jalen Hurd
The 49ers took him in the third round of the draft last year, and he played well during the preseason. But he broke his back and missed the entire regular season and playoffs. The 49ers still haven’t cleared him medically, although they hope to do so before April 1.
The 49ers also hoped Hurd would return to the team at midseason last year, but he suffered complications and setbacks, so he stopped traveling with the team and attending meetings. The mere act of sitting in one place for an extended period caused pain in his broken back.