Trent Taylor, Jalen Hurd and Jordan Matthews
The health of the two 49ers receivers currently on IR, Trent Taylor and Jalen Hurd, could shake all of these positions up, and would have likely whether the team had traded for Sanders or not.
But since they have, it’s fair to look at how it might impact the long-term decisions about not only Taylor and Hurd, but newly re-signed veteran Jordan Matthews, too.
Let’s start with the easy one: Matthews is probably on his way back out the door, especially with the reinstatement of long-snapper Kyle Nelson having gone through and the roster exemption closing at the end of the week. Sanders brings the roster to 54, including Nelson, so a release is imminent. Matthews, who played three late-game snaps on Sunday, is the likely casualty.
As for Taylor, he is already eligible to return to practice, and will be able to return to the roster after this week, which will provide the 49ers with another decision. If they activate Taylor, it could be the end of the road for players like Richie James or Kendrick Bourne, both of whom were fringe additions to the original 53-man roster.
If he returns, he’ll provide quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo with another security blanket to target on key downs during the game, a rapport they built up during the quarterback’s initial five-game run with the team in 2017.
To my mind, if he’s healthy, they should activate him, as he provides a specific skill set not found elsewhere on the roster. Sanders wouldn’t prove a threat to that role in the least.
In the case of Hurd, if he returns from the IR (he’ll be eligible to return after the Week 13 game in Baltimore against the Ravens), it’ll be another set of issues to address. But it feels more likely Sanders won’t impact him at all, and the 49ers will eventually shelve the 2019 third-round draft pick for the season to make sure his back injury doesn’t have long-term impacts.
It doesn’t seem likely, however, that either comes back this season, at least according to Kyle Shanahan (h/t The Athletic’s Matt Barrows):
Sanders will get a chance to step up and be the de-facto No. 1 receiver for the team moving forward, and that will mean reduced roles for almost all the 49ers receivers.
But it should also mean more opportunities for those who aren’t Sanders or George Kittle to carve out chances to shine, something every player on this roster should be shooting for.