49ers 2020 ‘Who Is?’ series: More red-zone work for Kendrick Bourne
By Peter Panacy
The 49ers are likely to keep Kendrick Bourne a red-zone specialist in 2020
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Kendrick Bourne is another reason why it doesn’t matter too much where a player gets drafted.
Or even if he gets drafted at all. If anything, the 2017 undrafted free agent has turned into one of the Niners’ more reliable offensive weapons over the past three season, including being one of head coach Kyle Shanahan’s trusted trio of pass catchers en route through Super Bowl LIV last season.
Yet the context of Bourne’s situation changes some entering 2020. One of the members of that trio, Emmanuel Sanders, is no longer with the team. Now both Bourne and fellow wideout Deebo Samuel are the only proven commodities at Shanahan’s disposal despite some offseason additions and hopeful returns of wideouts from injured reserve. So this is a major reason why San Francisco applied the second-round restricted free-agent tender during the offseason. The tender will pay Bourne $2.133 million this upcoming year.
And considering Bourne’s value, especially in the red zone, it could be a bargain.
That’s where Bourne has made his worth known:
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
While Bourne’s 358 receiving yards last season ranked fourth among all Niners receivers, his five receiving touchdowns were tied with tight end George Kittle for the most on the team.
And all of Bourne’s nine touchdowns have come within the red zone, too.
So, what’s at stake for Bourne heading into 2020? With those new additions to San Francisco’s roster, are there reasons why Bourne could head into a downward trajectory and see his role diminish?
Niner Noise’s 2020 “Who Is?” series takes a deeper look.
Why Kendrick Bourne improves with 49ers in 2020
Losing Sanders creates a clear void at boundary wide receiver. True, the Niners selected two wideouts in the 2020 NFL Draft, Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk and Tennessee’s Jauan Jennings, as well as inking former Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Travis Benjamin in free agency.
But Aiyuk could be brought along slowly, meaning Bourne has an excellent chance to start opposite Samuel early in the season until the rookie finds his traction.
This should open up some opportunities Bourne didn’t necessarily get with any regularity last season. And while Bourne won’t beat defensive backs with his speed, per se, the receiver’s hands are essentially what set him apart.
At least according to Shanahan.
Bourne emerging as a three-down threat would be exceptionally beneficial, particularly if he keeps his red-zone prowess as a part of his arsenal.
Why Kendrick Bourne regresses with 49ers in 2020
While Bourne should get more looks, at least early in the season, one has to recall he encountered a similar situation before Sanders was acquired at last year’s trade deadline. In only one game before Sanders arrived — Week 6 at the Washington Redskins — did Bourne put up more than 30 receiving yards. And there were only two games before the Sanders trade, the other being Week 4 against the Cleveland Browns, where Bourne had multiple catches.
So one might guess Bourne is still relegated to a niche player for San Francisco and little more.
Plus, the Niners are going to give Aiyuk and perhaps Jennings every chance to carve out significant roles on offense.
If either rookie shines early in 2020, that could ultimately mean Bourne’s role won’t get any better than it was a season ago.
Projected role, impact with 49ers in 2020
There’s a slight chance Bourne doesn’t make the 53-man cut after training camp, but one has to look at him on the strongest side of the roster bubble given the other question marks the Niners have at the position. Bourne’s history alone likely keeps him safe.
Much of what Bourne does early, however, hinges on Aiyuk getting up to speed and becoming one of the two starters on the outside alongside Samuel. If Aiyuk takes a little bit, just like Samuel did early in his rookie year, the prime beneficiary would be Bourne. There are other players in the mix, yes. But Bourne remains a favorite to start for the same reasons he’s on the strongest side of the roster bubble.
As the season draws on, though, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Bourne’s role change, perhaps reverting back to that red-zone specialist the 49ers have otherwise failed to develop at the position.
This isn’t a bad position to be in, per se, and Bourne regularly capitalized on these chances last season.
And if that trend continues in what’s essentially a contract year for the former undrafted free agent, it’ll be well worth San Francisco’s efforts to keep him around in 2020.