49ers need WR Trent Taylor to bounce back big in 2020

Trent Taylor #81 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
Trent Taylor #81 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images) /

The 49ers have questions at wide receiver, but some of those can be alleviated if Trent Taylor returns healthy from the season-long foot injury in 2019.

Things can go one of two ways for the San Francisco 49ers and fourth-year wide receiver Trent Taylor in 2020.

Taylor can either bounce back fully healthy and reinvigorated from the season-long foot injury he suffered a year ago, or he can be relegated to the pile of “what could have been” players the Niners once hyped yet never had reach their full potential.

Taylor’s potential as a legitimate pass-catching option began in college at Louisiana Tech where he led all college football with a whopping 1,803 receiving yards in 2016. Yet Taylor’s smallish stature and only so-so speed ultimately led to him falling to San Francisco in Round 5 of the 2017 NFL Draft.

But just like his 2016 campaign, Taylor’s rookie year sparked even further once the 49ers started then-newly acquired quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, prompting a productive first year at the pro level:

Trent Taylor Receiving Table

Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/3/2020.

A back injury hindered Taylor’s sophomore campaign, and a Jones fracture in his foot during training camp derailed what looked to be a promising 2019 effort with Garoppolo also returning from injury.

Taylor’s own setback required a long healing process, fraught with complications and multiple follow-up surgeries that ultimately led to him spending all of the year on injured reserve.

Entering a contract year, the Niners now need Taylor to make up for some of the other injury losses and question marks the team has at the position.

There’s a way Taylor can achieve this, and Niner Noise’s annual “Who Is?” series evaluates how it happens.

Why Trent Taylor improves with 49ers in 2020

There are two notes to consider when looking at Taylor, both specifically related to his chemistry with Garoppolo.

In 2017, Taylor recorded 19 third-down receptions for a first down, which was tied for ninth best among all receivers and also tied for first among rookies with the Los Angeles Rams’ Cooper Kupp. Last year, without Taylor, Garoppolo led all quarterbacks with a 50-percent completion percentage on third-down attempts for a first down.

Needless to say, the two have a knack for getting it done on this crucial down.

A total of 191 of Taylor’s 430 receiving yards came when Garoppolo was the starter in 2017, meaning the production was there, too. And that was at a point when the 49ers were lacking established wide receiver options, not unlike what they’re facing in 2020 at least to start the season.

Tack on the fact it’s a contract year, and Taylor will want to capitalize on what could be his best season as a pro.

Why Trent Taylor regresses with 49ers in 2020

Taylor’s 5-foot-8 frame is opening up the door for an injury history, and the past two years have already suggested he’s not totally equipped for rigors at the NFL level. It’s one thing to be productive at the college level against slower, less-physical competition. It’s another to do it regularly within the pros.

While the Jones fracture was problematic, Taylor’s back problems in 2018 should arguably draw more attention. There’s just as much a possibility Taylor suffers yet another sort of setback this year, either in training camp or at some point during the regular season, ultimately meaning he’ll be unavailable for significant chunks of San Francisco’s upcoming campaign.

If availability is the best ability, Taylor has yet to prove he can be regularly counted upon.

Projected role with 49ers

San Francisco is probably going to be without two of its better-known wideouts to start the season, Deebo Samuel (foot) and Richie James (wrist). James, in particular, could have been the shoo-in replacement for Taylor out of the slot, even though head coach Kyle Shanahan scantly used James on offense the past two years even with Taylor out.

Aside from those two, the Niners don’t exactly have a lot of proven commodities. Kendrick Bourne is a proven veteran, yet Dante Pettis must bounce back from a forgettable 2019 campaign. The veteran, Travis Benjamin, could end up stealing a roster spot away from Taylor, so that’s a camp competition to watch.

Rookie wide receivers Brandon Aiyuk and Jauan Jennings have yet to prove themselves and are, well… rookies.

In this light, Taylor could see his stock value rise significantly during camp. If this happens, it wouldn’t be a shocker at all to see Taylor revert back to being one of those key third-down weapons at Garoppolo’s disposal during the regular season.

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At least that’s what the 49ers are banking on.