The SF 49ers have a starting wide receiver tandem in Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel, but the depth behind them is questionable.
Last year, it seemed as if when one was healthy, the other wasn’t. Indeed the duo of Samuel and Aiyuk appeared on the field together at the same time for only six games. And while Samuel’s absence due to multiple injuries probably had some sort of positive impact Aiyuk, at least in terms of getting a larger percentage of looks, head coach Kyle Shanahan would clearly prefer to have both players available at the same time.
If that happens in 2021, fine. But the Niners aren’t anywhere close to set with their wide receiver depth chart heading into the offseason.
With only $13.1 million in available cap space, per Over the Cap, it’ll be challenging for San Francisco to use NFL free agency as a means to either re-sign or go after some of the mid- to upper-echelon players on the open market. Complicating the matter is the fact No. 3 wide receiver Kendrick Bourne, who set career-highs in receptions (49) and receiving yards (667) last year, is an unrestricted free agent. He’s made overtures about a possible return. But with OTC assigning him a value at $6.345 million, Bourne simply might be out of the SF 49ers’ price range.
While the Niners would likely entertain Bourne’s return at the right price, they’re almost assuredly going to move on from slot receiver Trent Taylor, who had just 10 catches for 86 yards last season and ended up being a healthy scratch for a bulk of the games late in the year. Injuries thwarted what looked to be a promising career for the 2017 fifth-round NFL Draft pick, yet San Francisco isn’t exactly in a position any longer where it can invest in oft-injured players.
This also casts doubt on whether or not the SF 49ers’ third-round pick from 2019, wide receiver Jalen Hurd, will have a role this upcoming season.
Hurd has yet to see a regular-season NFL snap after missing his rookie year with a back injury and 2020 campaign with an ACL tear.
SF 49ers depth options provide intrigue, little else
The Niners brought back exclusive-rights free agent River Cracraft, who was used primarily on special teams and had scant appearances on offense. That’s probably the extent of what Shanahan sees for him, and ERFA players aren’t exactly free agents in the true sense of the term anyway.
Meanwhile, San Francisco can hope its seventh-round pick from last year’s draft, wide receiver Jauan Jennings, takes a massive leap in year two after spending his rookie season on the practice squad.
Jennings was viewed as an absolute steal in Round 7. But a paltry training camp, which showcased more than enough focus drops and a lack of route-running prowess, are going to be areas of concern. If anything, Jennings remains little more than a developmental player with the remote upside of being a possible third-down weapon.
The lack of free-agent funds is going to be challenging, meaning the SF 49ers will either have to rely on low-budget options on the open market this offseason or use one of their eight (potentially 10 including two compensatory selections) draft picks on wide receivers. While it doesn’t seem likely Shanahan and Co. would use one of their top-two picks to address receiving depth needs, one might expect them to do so on day three of the draft.
Particularly in a receiving class thought to be more than adequate in depth and with quality options in Rounds 4 through 7.