Predicting 49ers wide receiver depth chart with Marqise Lee
By Peter Panacy
49ers storylines to watch at wide receiver
One of the key elements to consider is neither Brandon Aiyuk nor Deebo Samuel enjoyed a clean slate of health in 2020, and the Niners enjoyed their presence together on the field at the same time for just six games last year.
Samuel dealt with both a foot fracture and hamstring injury, while Aiyuk suffered his own early hamstring setback in training camp a year ago before landing on the reserve/COVID-19 list, too.
Perhaps San Francisco gets better luck here in 2021, but it’s not necessarily the biggest storyline for this position heading towards the regular season.
Which 49ers WR starts in the slot?
On the surface, one might assume Richie James is the favorite to be the 49ers’ primary slot option in 2021. After all, James has made the most of his limited offensive opportunities, including that impressive nine-catch, 184-yard performance against the Green Bay Packers on Thursday Night Football last year.
But head coach Kyle Shanahan, for whatever the reasons, has shied away from using James on offense with any sort of regularity. And Shanahan’s tendency to use a big-bodied slot receiver suggests someone like Mohamed Sanu could potentially steal the job away from James.
Who replaces the production left open by Kendrick Bourne’s departure?
Yes, the Niners will focus on getting the ball into the hands of Aiyuk and Samuel. Yet it’s important to at least acknowledge Kendrick Bourne had 667 receiving yards last year and also five touchdowns the season before that.
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This would roughly equate to those crucial two or three tertiary grabs by a complementary wideout per game.
Right now, there’s no clear-cut answer who will step up and fill that void.
Can Jalen Hurd, Jauan Jennings stay healthy and make an impact?
The hope for third-year wideout Jalen Hurd to finally make his presence known seems more fan-driven than anything else, and one has to take into account he’s never seen a regular-season snap after missing both 2019 and 2020 with serious injuries.
Plus, he had just one year at the position in college after converting from being a running back.
Along with second-year pro Jauan Jennings, who suffered a serious hamstring injury after being named to San Francisco’s practice squad last year, Hurd’s primary focus this season should probably be little more than just staying healthy and sticking around.
Not much else should be expected at this point.
Which depth receiver separates himself from the 49ers pack?
James should be a favorite to hang around because of his use on special teams, even though that hasn’t always gone well.
Sanu has the veteran’s savvy, as do Marqise Lee and Travis Benjamin, the latter opting out last year but still offering a speedy deep-threat presence. There might only be room for one of those three on the 53-man roster, though, so some additional prowess within the red zone and on third-down situations could go a long way.
Watkins also remains a sleeper for the regular-season group, while one of the 49ers’ free-agent pickups, former Arizona Cardinals wideout Trent Sherfield, could end up turning heads this offseason, too.
It’s probably best to assume Kevin White’s NFL career is flaming out.