49ers 2020 ‘Who Is?’ series: Travis Benjamin to resurrect career?

Travis Benjamin #12 of the Los Angeles Chargers (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Travis Benjamin #12 of the Los Angeles Chargers (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

A resurgent 2020 campaign is a must for 49ers wide receiver Travis Benjamin.

When the San Francisco 49ers inked veteran wide receiver Travis Benjamin to a one-year free-agent deal during the offseason, the team already made overtures about potentially moving on from their previous speedster on offense, wide receiver Marquise Goodwin.

That was all before the 2020 NFL Draft, though, yet the Niners ultimately traded Goodwin to the Philadelphia Eagles, possibly opening up the door for Benjamin to assume a larger role.

There was another reason for San Francisco to bring aboard Benjamin. Three-year veteran slot receiver Trent Taylor had spent the better part of the last two seasons dealing with significant injuries, and there was no guarantee Taylor would be able to return to form.

As such, the 49ers were banking on Benjamin filling a key role amid a group of pass-catchers who had some serious doubts behind Deebo Samuel and Kendrick Bourne.

Like Goodwin, Benjamin has some serious speed. He ran a 4.36 40-yard time back during the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine before being selected by the Cleveland Browns in Round 4 of that year’s draft. But it’s important to note the length of time between now and then. Now 30 years old, one can wonder if Benjamin still has that kind of burst.

Especially considering his injury history of late.

Benjamin spent a season under then-Browns offensive coordinator, now 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan back in 2014, so one can see the connection. But Benjamin enjoyed a career-best year the following year by posting up 68 receptions for 966 yards and five touchdowns, which prompted a four-year deal with the San Diego Chargers the following year.

Despite two solid years with the Chargers thereafter, Benjamin was still dealing with injuries in 2016, 2018 and 2019. A quad injury landed him on injured reserve last year after just five games.

So, can the veteran bounce back and secure a role with San Francisco in 2020?

Why Travis Benjamin Improves with 49ers in 2020

Reuniting with Shanahan has its merits, and it wouldn’t be shocking if the head coach envisions the 5-foot-10, 175-pound receiver in a similar role Goodwin was supposed to be used last season — a field-stretching deep threat with speed to burn.

One can’t coach speed, either, and that trait was still plenty evident over the past few seasons in Los Angeles.

On top of that, Benjamin won’t be asked to fill a go-to role. San Francisco already has key possession receivers in Samuel and hopefully the rookie, Brandon Aiyuk. If Shanahan wants to put Benjamin in go-route situations out of the slot, it could open up things a lot for the rest of the Niners receiving corps.

Benjamin will have to flash that speed in training camp, developing a quick rapport with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and showcasing his understanding of Shanahan’s offense, too, which could put him in that unique role this season.

Why Travis Benjamin Regresses with 49ers in 2020

It was one thing to see Benjamin run his blazing 40-yard time back in 2012, yet it’s fair to assume he’s lost a step over the years.

Especially when factoring in his recent history of injuries.

On top of that, the production Benjamin had in recent seasons was less than promising within a pass-first Chargers offense:

Travis Benjamin Receiving Table
4 yr4 yrCLE5421221109168315.41049.3%8
4 yr4 yrLAC-SDG471617799146014.7955.9%7

Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/4/2020.

Even if one takes Benjamin’s lowly 2019 totals off the table, his 2018 campaign was anything but exemplary from a stat perspective.

Is this a downtrend, and should we expect Benjamin to look more like the receiver he was post his 2017 campaign?

If so, there won’t be much of a role for him with San Francisco, especially considering the return of players like Taylor.

Chances of Travis Benjamin Making 49ers’ 53-Man Roster

It seems like the Niners brought aboard Benjamin as a form of insurance, guarding against the possibility the team wouldn’t land ideal targets in the NFL Draft and/or wouldn’t get a player like Taylor back healthy in time.

This explains why Benjamin signed a one-year, $1.05 million deal with zero in dead money if cut.

Benjamin’s contract puts him into a bit of a precarious situation. San Francisco has much more money invested elsewhere, and this kind of contract all but eliminates any need for the team to keep Benjamin beyond training camp and the preseason.

There’s another factor in the mix, too. Benjamin’s role would likely be as a speedy slot threat, which has its role. But the 49ers’ selection of Tennessee wideout Jauan Jennings in Round 7 suggests Shanahan could prioritize a big slot instead of the traditional small, shifty receiver most teams use.

So the pressure will be on Benjamin to impress in camp, showcasing his value right out of the gate and outperforming a number of the other receivers towards the middle of San Francisco’s depth chart.

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It’ll be tough to make the roster, and it’s safe to say he’s on the weaker end of the bubble. But if Benjamin is impressive enough, his role will be cut out for him.