Niner Noise continues our “Who Is?” series on 2017 San Francisco 49ers players with a look at veteran wide receiver Jeremy Kerley and his fit on the offense.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Jeremy Kerley was an absolute steal for the franchise in what was otherwise a forgetful 2016 campaign.
Picked up via a trade that sent former Niners draft bust, offensive lineman Brandon Thomas, to the Detroit Lions, Kerley eventually ended up leading his new team in both receptions (64) and receiving yards (667).
This, combined with his spirited attitude and on-field effort, resulted in a new three-year deal from the new regime this offseason.
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Kerley had some promising seasons with the New York Jets before finding his way to San Francisco. But his 2017 numbers may see a spike towards career-high numbers with head coach Kyle Shanahan at the helm.
Additional offensive weapons, such as wide receivers Pierre Garcon and Marquise Goodwin, may actually take the pressure off slot-like routes.
The ones which Kerley will likely run this season.
So what should we project to happen in 2017 and how will Kerley make an impact? Let’s take a look.
Why He’ll Improve
Keep in mind, Kerley’s team-leading numbers from a year ago aren’t exactly anything stellar. And he never developed the same rapport with former Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick as he did with fellow QB Blaine Gabbert earlier in the season.
Yet current Niners quarterback Brian Hoyer doesn’t have a cannon for an arm. More of a pocket passer and game manager, Hoyer will likely be asked to hit targets in the short and intermediate ranges. Slot receivers, like Kerley, can benefit here.
Plus, opponents will often look to lock down Garcon, who is widely viewed as the 49ers’ No. 1 receiver right now.
And with Goodwin using his flashy speed to take the top off defenses, Kerley may see his chances increase.
Why He’ll Regress
Kerley’s best season, 2012, came with a Jets team that had Mark Sanchez under center and almost no one else to help in the receiving game.
Last year was more of the same in the wide receiver department.
One could draw the conclusion Kerley has the potential to be a good receiver on a bad team but little more. After all, he’s crested 500 receiving yards only three times in his six-year career, averaging 482 yards per season in the process.
2016 could have been one of those “flash in the pan” campaigns where Kerley made some solid contributions but on a bad offense.
Other teams may easily recognize he was a favorite weapon last year and adjust accordingly.
And with rookie slot receiver Trent Taylor vying for playing time, the Niners may be thinking more about the long term than giving Kerley a chance to retain what seems to be a solidified role.
What to Expect in 2017
Speaking of Taylor, the slot battle will be a fun one to watch in training camp and the preseason.
It’s not likely Taylor takes the reins from Kerley in the former’s rookie season. No, Kerley is all but guaranteed to hold down this starting job in Week 1 and, most likely, throughout 2017.
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Eclipsing the numbers Kerley produced last year isn’t out of the question. It might even be a real possibility.
Yet Shanahan’s offense is complex, which means Kerley might lose favor to guys who have played in the head coach’s system before — Garcon, Aldrick Robinson, etc.
Still, granting Kerley a three-year deal (he’s only 28 years old) likely signifies a bridge between now and whenever the Niners hope they have a bona fide stud out of the slot.
This big-name contributor could be Taylor, but probably not right away.
So look for Kerley to be the top contributor here even if his stats take a minor hit.