Will 49ers WR Chris Thompson ever get his chance?

Chris Thompson #14 of the Houston Texans (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Chris Thompson #14 of the Houston Texans (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /
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Niner Noise’s “Who Is?” series on 49ers players looks at seldom-discussed wide receiver Chris Thompson who hasn’t been much of a factor during his career.

On one hand, the San Francisco 49ers seem to like veteran wide receiver Chris Thompson, who joined the league back in 2017 as an undrafted free-agent signing of the Houston Texans. After all, the Niners signed and re-signed him a total of four times between 2019 and 2020.

Thompson provided a minor impact with the Texans his rookie year, catching five passes for 84 yards over 13 games played and serving a substantial role on special teams as both a kick and punt returner. Yet Houston parted ways with him a year later, and Thompson joined the Orlando Apollos of the now-defunct Alliance of American Football before starting his tenure with San Francisco.

The 49ers’ eyeing Thompson as a practice squad option with the capability of being a special teams contributor is probably the best way the 6-foot-0, 175-pound wideout makes the cut. Even during his college days at Florida, Thompson wasn’t a massive contributor on offense, never boasting more than five receptions in a single season.

He did leave something of a mark in the return game, however, ranking ninth in the SEC in 2016 in kickoff yards per return:

Chris Thompson Kick & Punt Returns Table
Kick RetPunt Ret
YearSchoolConfClassPosGRetYdsAvgTDRetYdsAvgTD
2013FloridaSECFRWR1000000
*2014FloridaSECSOWR437224.00000
*2015FloridaSECJRWR9000000
*2016FloridaSECSRWR81328321.80000
CareerFlorida1635522.20000

Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 8/4/2020.

This parallels the modest success on special teams Thompson enjoyed during his lone year with the Texans.

And if Thompson hopes to make the cut for San Francisco in 2020, he’ll have to do so by the way of his return abilities.

Niner Noise’s annual “Who Is?” series takes a deeper look.

Why Chris Thompson improves with 49ers in 2020

The most important aspect for a player of Thompson’s ilk is the opportunity, and Thompson has that entering training camp.

Wide receiver Richie James was likely pegged as the favorite to secure return duties, yet he suffered a broken wrist earlier this offseason and could miss the first few weeks of 2020. Defensive back D.J. Reed, another return option, is out for the year with a pectoral tear.

There are other options, yes. But this opens up the door for Thompson to receive some increased looks in the return game. Should he capitalize on this chance, it could be an open door to receive an increased role after spending the better part of his pro career on the roster fringes.

Why Chris Thompson regresses with 49ers in 2020

It’s one thing to have a chance, but it’s another to make the most of it.

Thompson, while serviceable as a returner, shouldn’t be viewed as elite in this category. His return efforts in Houston were OK enough — a 21.7-yard kick-return average and 6.5 yards per punt return — but that’s production relatively easily replaced by someone else offering more on the roster.

Thompson’s smallish frame doesn’t lend to him being a regular receiving threat, which is one of the reasons he hasn’t impacted the stat sheet much there either.

So, if one wants to assume he’ll get onto San Francisco’s 53-man roster based on his return abilities alone, that’ll be a massive uphill climb.

Chances of making 49ers’ 53-man roster

Injuries to James and Reed open up the door a bit for Thompson, but he still has to be viewed as one of the players on the weakest side of the roster bubble. Not quite a long shot, but it’s certainly going to be a massive challenge for him to make the cut.

In addition to Thompson, the Niners could experiment with fellow wideouts Trent Taylor, Dante Pettis or even the 2020 rookie, Brandon Aiyuk, in the return game. All three have experience, although San Francisco might want to save them for their offensive abilities instead of risking additional injury.

That said, Thompson’s serviceability as solely a return option isn’t a highly sought-after commodity. The 49ers don’t have much invested in him, even though they kept him around in one way or another for much of 2019 and into 2020.

Instead, you’ll likely see him get some looks in training camp on returns before again failing to make the cut.

Next. Updated 49ers bubble watch after first wave of roster cuts. dark

Unless he is clearly the best return option available.