San Francisco 49ers: 5 early battles to monitor for 2021 training camp
By Peter Panacy
While there’s a lot that can change over the next couple of months, 49ers training camp in 2021 is likely to feature some key position and player battles.
For the most part, it’s fairly easy to predict who the San Francisco 49ers will insert into their offensive and defensive starting lineups to kick off the 2021 season.
The Niners’ offseason moves, mostly via free agency, retained or brought aboard a sizable chunk of starting-caliber players and left only a few holes to be filled within the first-string units.
There were, however, plenty of questions about the team’s depth, as well as possible long-term replacements for all those veterans returning on one-year deals.
Needless to say, some of the position battles should be pretty entertaining throughout minicamps, OTAs and especially in training camp when the competition ramps up.
It’s still early. But these five camp battles should be on San Francisco fans’ collective radar leading up to the regular season.
49ers training camp battle No. 5: Third option at wide receiver
The 49ers elected not to draft a wide receiver in 2021, breaking an 18-year streak of previously drafting one.
This is great news for the many bodies who occupy depth spots behind the two starters, Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, as the competition will be a bit easier in that regard. At the same time, though, there remain questions surrounding who’ll fill the void left by now-New England Patriots wideout Kendrick Bourne as the No. 3 option, particularly someone who can run routes out of the slot.
It’s possible Richie James assumes a bigger role after primarily being featured as a return specialist the last three years. The veteran, Mohamed Sanu, is also back following his brief stint with the team a year ago. The Niners also added Trent Sherfield as a free agent during the offseason and are hoping wideouts Travis Benjamin, Jalen Hurd and Jauan Jennings can make an impact after missing out on their 2020 campaigns.
Others, like Kevin White and first-year UDFA Austin Watkins, are in the mix, too.
There are a lot of names but not necessarily anyone who stands out, meaning there will have to be a riser or potential 11th-hour pickup to bolster the depth chart between now and Week 1.