The 49ers made use of a deep NFL Draft class in 2020, but the 2021 class could be even deeper.
After losing veteran wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders this offseason, the San Francisco 49ers needed to bolster what was otherwise a questionable wide receiver crop heading into 2020. Behind Kendrick Bourne and Deebo Samuel, the Niners mostly had unproven, unreliable or underperforming commodities at the position.
So it’s no surprise San Francisco added two wide receivers in the 2020 NFL Draft, Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk and Tennessee’s Jauan Jennings in Rounds 1 and 7, respectively.
This year’s draft was awfully deep at the position, according to a multitude of draft experts, including Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller.
Interestingly enough, the 2021 NFL Draft could be even deeper and more talented at wide receiver.
The folks over at Pro Football Focus put together a breakdown why the 2021 receiving class could be better than the already-impressive group of wideouts seen taken last April, and this is telling:
"The 2020 wide receiver class was heralded as an all-timer. When the dust settled, 11 of the top 50 picks in the 2020 draft were receivers. And while it remains to be seen how they’ll fare in the pros, that’s an already incredibly impressive start to the class from a draft capital perspective. The crazy thing is, the 2021 class has a good chance to beat it. The 16 receivers below are already likely to earn Day 1 or Day 2 grades from us here at PFF, and that’s not to mention the inevitable Justin Jefferson-esque breakout that’s sure to happen from a lesser-known receiver in 2020."
A number of prospects PFF listed could be Round 1 selections in 2021:
- Ja’Marr Chase, LSU
- Justyn Ross, Clemson
- DeVonta Smith, Alabama
- Jaylen Waddle, Alabama
- Rondale Moore, Purdue
- Seth Williams, Auburn
Just like 2020, there will likely be plenty of starting-caliber wide receivers in Rounds 3 and 4 of the 2021 draft, too, making the same kind of excitement a must for next year’s class.
Would the 49ers take another wide receiver in the 2021 NFL Draft?
There’s always the possibility, of course, especially if a player like Aiyuk takes some time to develop and isn’t quite the impact contributor he’s expected to be.
But there are other reasons why a receiver would be atop the list of head coach Kyle Shanahan’s want list for the 2021 NFL Draft. Barring an incredible turnaround from an otherwise forgettable 2019 campaign, third-year pro Dante Pettis is going to be under scrutiny. Fellow wide receivers Trent Taylor and Jalen Hurd spent all of last season on injured reserve, and Hurd still has yet to take a regular-season snap at the NFL level.
Bourne, meanwhile, will be an unrestricted free agent in 2021.
The biggest X-factor in determining whether or not Shanahan and Co. want to dive into what looks to be a deeper wide receiver pool will be Aiyuk’s development. While it’s premature to expect big things from him right away, especially amid one of the most unusual offseasons to date with regards to COVID-19, the 49ers will want to ensure he’s going to be a bona fide contributor by season’s end.
If not, Shanahan will likely want yet another first- or second-round wide receiver in the NFL Draft.
Beyond that, however, it wouldn’t be a shocker to see San Francisco use a mid- or late-round pick to reinforce the back end of its receiving depth chart.
So it’s a good thing the class is expected to be awfully deep, potentially offering some solid options later in the 2021 NFL Draft.