The 49ers already had question marks at wide receiver entering training camp, but injuries at the position have only compounded the problem.
Once the San Francisco 49ers elected not to re-sign veteran wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders during the offseason, it was only natural there would be speculation and question marks whether or not this unit could be effective enough for a Super Bowl contender.
Despite the Niners onboarding rookie wideouts Brandon Aiyuk and Jauan Jennings in the 2020 NFL Draft, those questions haven’t subsided.
If anything, they’ve only increased.
Injuries have played a big role for head coach Kyle Shanahan’s squad all offseason, up to and including training camp. But perhaps no other position has been affected as much as the wide receiver room. The lack of depth has prompted San Francisco to sign free agents from the proverbial scrap heap of available free agents who lasted this long towards the regular season.
As of the second week of camp, the 49ers have inked free-agent wideouts Tavon Austin, J.J. Nelson, Jaron Brown and River Cracraft. None are projected to make the 53-man roster, per se. But injuries and a lack of depth could change that.
For those injured Niners receivers, here are the latest updates.
49ers WR Richie James
Richie James suffered a broken wrist during impromptu offseason workouts earlier this summer. Shanahan told reporters he expected James, who also served as the team’s primary return man the last two years, to start the regular season on the PUP list, meaning he won’t be available for at least the first six weeks.
This could be a bonus for James, though, as he wasn’t a lock to make the 53-man roster right away and might use the time to let the current wide receiver situation pan itself out.
49ers WR Travis Benjamin
Travis Benjamin was one of the Niners’ few free-agent additions earlier this offseason, and he was expected to either provide slot-receiver duties for Shanahan or at least serve as a deep-threat option, replacing former San Francisco receiver Marquise Goodwin, who was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles this offseason.
Benjamin isn’t hurt, instead electing to opt out in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. His absence likely convinced Shanahan and Co. to bring aboard Austin and Nelson.
49ers WR Jalen Hurd
One of the most-hyped players on the squad this offseason, Jalen Hurd was looking forward to his regular-season debut after missing all of 2019 with a back injury.
Hurd suffered a torn ACL during individual drills on the sideline during camp, though, effectively ending his season.
It’ll be tough for Hurd to resurrect his NFL career after missing the first two years of his pro career with serious injuries.
49ers WR Deebo Samuel
Like James, Deebo Samuel suffered an offseason injury during unofficial team workouts, sustaining a Jones fracture in his left foot which was initially diagnosed with a roughly 10-week recovery period.
At its longest, Samuel could still miss the first few weeks of the regular season. But by the looks of it, the second-year pro isn’t suffering anything close to the kind of setbacks fellow wideout Trent Taylor endured with a similar injury a year ago, which cost the latter all of 2019.
And on Wednesday, the Sacramento Bee’s Chris Biderman reported this encouraging bit of news:
While this is far from a guarantee Samuel will be back in time for training camp, and he’ll likely need at least a week or two to get back up to speed, at least it’s a bit reassuring Samuel’s recovery is coming along well enough.
49ers WR Brandon Aiyuk
Before suffering his own injury, Aiyuk was one of training camp’s biggest standouts. He was hindered by a hamstring injury last weekend. And on Tuesday, Shanahan told reporters Aiyuk suffered a mild hamstring strain and would be on a week-to-week basis.
With less than three weeks ahead of the regular season, this all but eliminates Aiyuk from the remainder of camp activities, cutting into the vital development time any rookie, particularly one in an abbreviated offseason, would ideally like to have.
The good news, however, is subsequent reports from both local and national insiders revealed San Francisco is fully expecting its first-round draft pick to be back in time for Week 1 on Sept. 13 against the Arizona Cardinals.
Aiyuk is expected to have a significant role in Shanahan’s offense this season.