Finding a reliable No. 2 wide receiver for Kyle Shanahan’s offense should be a priority for the San Francisco 49ers in the 2020 NFL Draft.
The San Francisco 49ers will likely need to use its first-round, No. 31 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft to address the wide receiver position if they hope to acquire a pass catcher who will have a significant impact on the roster right away.
The Niners are without second-, third- and fourth-round picks in the upcoming draft, so a trade down and out of Round 1 might be the team’s smartest move.
But for simplicity’s sake, let’s assume San Francisco stays put at No. 31.
Sports Illustrated’s Kevin Hanson has five wide receivers being taken before the 49ers’ first pick in his latest post-NFL Combine mock draft. Using this mock as a baseline removes Jerry Jeudy (Alabama), CeeDee Lamb (Oklahoma), Henry Ruggs III (Alabama), Brandon Aiyuk (ASU) and Justin Jefferson (LSU) off the board.
This still leaves a number of talented playmakers for the Niners to choose from in what is an extremely deep wide receiver class. The top three receivers left on the board would be Laviska Shenault Jr. (Colorado), Tee Higgins (Clemson) and Jalen Reagor (TCU), based on Pro Football Focus’ 2020 NFL Draft board.
Out of these three pass catchers, Higgins makes the most sense for the 49ers. The Niners already have a multitude of quick-but-undersized pass catchers like Reagor. Deebo Samuel, Kendrick Bourne and Trent Taylor all fit head coach Kyle Shanahan’s scheme of getting open on short and intermediate routes down the field.
Shenault is an exceptional talent, but the last thing the Niners need is another oft-injured offensive player who rarely sees the field.
Drafting Higgins would give San Francisco something it has not had in a very long time: a receiver who is a lethal end-zone threat. Higgins broke Clemson’s record for most touchdown receptions in school history with 27 in his three-year career. Just remember current standout NFL receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins both played their college ball for the Tigers.
The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Higgins would be by far the biggest target at wide receiver quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has thrown to in his career. Imagine the red-zone plays Shanahan can draw up with the presence of a huge receiver on the field.
The tape on Higgins shows he creates enough separation from corners to get open, but he excels because of his enormous catch radius. Garoppolo hasn’t had a deep threat to whom he can throw 50-50 balls. Higgins is big and strong enough to make contested catches against NFL corners.
A good NFL comparison for Higgins would be Kenny Golladay from the Detroit Lions. He is obviously most effective around the goal line but can make big-time, field-stretching catches when called upon as well.
Higgins’ skill set is completely different from Samuel’s, which would make them a dynamic duo for years to come. Samuel can eat up yardage on short passing plays to move the ball after the catch, while Higgins commands double teams with long routes down the field — similar to how the Seattle Seahawks used their wide receivers, D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, last season.
Shanahan has been known to value quick receivers who get separation over bigger guys who can’t shake corners as well, but Higgins is too great of an end-zone threat for the 49ers to pass up on if he falls to No. 31.
The addition of a goal-line fade route to go along with all the motion and play action San Francisco runs inside the 20-yard line could make this addition a nightmare matchup for opposing defenses.