Which 49ers receiver will make the big leap?
SANTA CLARA — George Kittle isn’t enough.
To finish next season with a winning record, the 49ers will need a consistent receiving threat other than Kittle, their Pro Bowl tight end.
Kittle is an elite pass-catcher, but opposing defenses will double- and triple-cover him constantly next season. One of the 49ers’ wide receivers must draw attention away from Kittle.
Unfortunately for the 49ers, Kittle is their only consistent pass-catcher. None of the other receivers have proven themselves. None ever have gained more than 1,000 yards in a season.
One of the 49ers’ wide receivers must make a giant leap forward next season. Here are the most likely candidates to make the leap:
1. Kendrick Bourne
Bourne was the 49ers’ most reliable wide receiver last season. He played all 16 games and gained 487 receiving yards — second most on the 49ers after Kittle, who gained a whopping 1,377 receiving yards.
The 49ers can count on Bourne to stay healthy, know Kyle Shanahan’s complicated playbook and make the difficult catches in traffic. They’ve seen him make those catches the past two seasons since they signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2017.
The 49ers know exactly what to expect from Bourne — both the good and the bad. So, they probably won’t expect him to transform himself into a go-to receiver defenses have to worry about. Bourne is a solid No. 4 or 5 receiver on a depth chart, but he probably isn’t dangerous enough to start for a good offense. The 49ers may need someone else to step up.
2. Deebo Samuel
The 49ers absolutely expect Samuel to become a go-to receiver at some point.
Shanahan coached Samuel at the Senior Bowl in January, and the 49ers took him in the second round of April’s draft. They know him well and value his potential.
Shanahan called seven passes for Samuel during the first two OTAs in front of the media this offseason. Clearly, Shanahan was preparing Samuel for a significant role in the offense. But, Samuel tweaked his hip during the second practice and missed the rest of OTAs and minicamp. He fell behind.
Samuel has a history of missing time. In college, he missed 21 of 52 games to various injuries. If he stays healthy the rest of the year, he may become the threat the 49ers need opposite Kittle. But, if he continues to suffer minor injuries, the 49ers may choose to break in Samuel slowly his rookie season, then feature him on offense in 2020.
3. Marquise Goodwin
Goodwin played like a No. 1 receiver for about a month two seasons ago.
From Nov. 12, 2017 to Dec. 17, 2017 — a span of five games — Goodwin caught 29 passes for 480 yards. Fantastic numbers. But, since then, Goodwin has played 13 games and caught just 28 passes for 460 receiving yards.
He has stopped producing.
Since his brilliant five-game stretch of 2017, Goodwin has suffered a concussion, a quadriceps contusion, a hamstring pull and a calf injury. He can’t stay healthy. He’s not reliable.
The 49ers had to rely on Goodwin big time the past two seasons — he started 24 of 32 games. Now, Shanahan believes Goodwin will benefit from a reduced workload.