49ers NFL Draft 2021: 4 slot receiver prospects to target

Rondale Moore #4 of the Purdue Boilermakers (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Rondale Moore #4 of the Purdue Boilermakers (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) /
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Cade Johnson, SDSU
Cade Johnson of SDSU Image Handler /

The 49ers could use some receiving help in the 2021 NFL Draft, and finding someone to operate out of the slot would be a smart idea.

In 2017, the San Francisco 49ers appeared destined to develop the NFL’s next great slot receiver, Trent Taylor, whom the Niners grabbed in Round 5 of that year’s NFL Draft.

But despite a promising rookie season, injuries and a lack of production thwarted any hopes Taylor would dramatically impact San Francisco’s offense. After four years, Taylor is now a free agent, and the 49ers are once again looking at options to work out of the slot in head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense.

The “positionless” nature of Shanahan’s system doesn’t necessarily equate to a prototypical WR1, WR2, slot format, although the Niners have hurt for someone who can run routes over the middle of the field with notable regularity. Plus, in the wake of the team’s former No. 3 wide receiver, Kendrick Bourne, leaving in free agency for the New England Patriots, there’s a need for Shanahan to address in this year’s NFL Draft anyway.

Luckily, this year’s draft class is incredibly deep at the position, and San Francisco would be wise to use at least one of its nine picks to grab a slot-type pass-catcher.

Here are four who should catch Shanahan’s attention.

49ers Target No. 4: Cade Johnson, South Dakota State

One of the players who made Niner Noise’s list of most-notable sleeper prospects to target this year is South Dakota State wide receiver Cade Johnson.

Johnson could be one of those sixth- or seventh-round fliers, getting onto the NFL Draft radar thanks to an exceptional week of practices at the 2021 Reese’s Senior Bowl where Johnson displayed uncanny footwork and the ability to get beyond defenders in one-on-one drills with ease.

The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Johnson didn’t play in 2020 because of South Dakota State canceling its season.

But the previous two years were impressive enough, as Johnson hauled in 139 passes for 2,554 yards and 25 touchdowns.

Forget the level of competition, that’s called production.

If the 49ers can land Johnson towards the tail end of day three of the draft, it could be a massive steal of a small-school prospect.