49ers vs. Chargers: 4 players who are fighting for final roster spots

Dante Pettis #18 and Kendrick Bourne #84 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Dante Pettis #18 and Kendrick Bourne #84 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) /
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49ers vs. Chargers: 5 players fighting for roster spots
KANSAS CITY, MO – AUGUST 24: Wide receiver Jordan Matthews #81 of the San Francisco 49ers catches a pass against cornerback Mark Fields #26 of the Kansas City Chiefs during the second half of a preseason game at Arrowhead Stadium on August 24, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images) /

WR Jordan Matthews

When former Philadelphia Eagles and Buffalo Bills wide receiver Jordan Matthews signed with San Francisco at the start of free agency, the “big slot” receiver thought he was stepping into a starting role with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers’ offense.

However, after the 49ers added two wideouts on the second day of the 2019 NFL draft, and the team’s top slot receiver Taylor returned to action at full health, Matthews’ roster chances appeared to have dimmed. But the veteran immediately impressed during 49ers organized team activities (OTAs) and continued to do so throughout training camp, while drawing praise from Shanahan throughout the process.

Taylor’s August foot surgery would have given Matthews a leg up on the competition for the starting slot role, but James had other ideas once preseason games began. Per PFF, James currently leads the NFL with 89.0 receiving grade this preseason, and his 92.6 offensive grade was the highest grade among all wide receivers in Week 3.

James’ return skills also give him an added edge, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t also room for Matthews, who, like James, has seen increased work on the outside as well as in the slot.

Over the 49ers’ first three preseason games, Matthews converted five targets into three receptions for 45 yards. One of those failed targets was an overthrown pass by QB Nick Mullens that should have been a long catch-and-run touchdown reception by Matthews, who was wide open on the play.

Meanwhile, Bourne saw three targets in each of his three games, and converted all but one into 66 receiving yards and a one-yard score. Unfortunately for Bourne, the one incompletion was a deep but well-thrown pass that was dropped by the receiver.

With two capable receivers and one hopeful roster spot, all eyes will be on Matthews and Bourne on Thursday night.