49ers 2021 ‘Who is?’ series: Does Travis Benjamin have a chance?

Travis Benjamin #12 of the Los Angeles Chargers (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
Travis Benjamin #12 of the Los Angeles Chargers (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images) /

An aging speed threat, 49ers veteran wide receiver Travis Benjamin could be slipping off the roster bubble heading towards 2021 training camp.

Fans never got to see whether or not San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Travis Benjamin could turn his career around his first year under head coach Kyle Shanahan in 2020.

After signing his one-year free-agent deal last offseason, Benjamin ultimately elected to opt out in light of the pandemic, putting off the opportunity to bounce back from what was an injury-plagued 2019 campaign with the Los Angeles Chargers.

Benjamin broke into the NFL out of Miami back in 2012 because of his speed — an impressive 4.36 40-yard time during that year’s NFL Scouting Combine, which propelled him towards becoming a fourth-round selection of the Cleveland Browns.

And despite an impressive fourth year in Cleveland, followed up by two more quality years with the Chargers, Benjamin has turned into something of an afterthought.

Travis Benjamin Receiving Table
4 yr4 yrCLE54212211091683106949.3%8
4 yr4 yrLAC-SDG471617799146095855.9%7

Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com
Generated 6/4/2021.

Benjamin ultimately fell out of favor in Los Angeles in 2018 before eventually suffering a quad injury the following year, which limited him to just five games and a paltry six receptions for 30 yards.

Yet the Niners could have used his veteran presence last year amid a myriad of injuries at the position.

Either way, given San Francisco’s current situation at wide receiver entering 2021, Benjamin might now find himself fighting for a roster spot along with a number of other wideouts who are pressing to do the same thing.

It won’t be easy, and Niner Noise’s “Who is?” series takes a deeper look.

Why Travis Benjamin thrives with 49ers in 2021

Sure, he’s lost a step. And the 2019 quad injury, combined with a calf injury he’s currently dealing with during organized team activities, won’t help. But Benjamin still remains a solid deep threat if he can break away from defensive backs.

Despite his 5-foot-10, 175-pound frame, that’s how Benjamin has been successful in previous years.

Shanahan’s offense lacked a deep threat a year ago in the wake of trading wide receiver Marquise Goodwin to the Philadelphia Eagles. And while the 49ers offense wasn’t exactly predicated on taking deep shots, having Benjamin on the roster to stretch the field could potentially make him the perfect gadget weapon in key situations.

While Bejamin’s total catches may never be that high, should he make the Niners roster, his yards-per-catch average could be notable.

Why Travis Benjamin struggles with 49ers in 2021

There’s a wide-open competition for depth behind San Francisco’s two starting wide receivers, Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel, and Benjamin is in the thick of the mix.

So are other wide receivers like Trent Sherfield, Mohamed Sanu, Richie James, River Cracraft and Jauan Jennings, among others.

Snaps during OTAs and training camp are going to be at a premium, so Benjamin already missing time won’t help his chances. Plus, a player like James already has a leg up on Benjamin, both as a backup slot receiver and someone who can also use speed to stretch the field.

The 49ers already know what they have in James, and not even Benjamin’s veteran savvy will solely be enough to rise up the depth chart.

Chances of making the 53-man roster

Earlier this offseason, there was a modestly good chance Benjamin would hang around, both as a veteran presence and as a possible deep threat.

Right now, though, it’s looking like Jennings and Sanu are beginning to separate for the coveted No. 3 spot on the depth chart here, and it’s hard to envision someone like Benjamin overtaking either one of those two players at this point.

That leaves one, possibly two more wide receiver spots available.

It’s possible the team’s finances begin to work into the equation, too. Benjamin’s 2020 contract carries over into 2021 now, and he’ll be owed $1.075 million as a base salary if he makes the roster. But there’s zero in guaranteed money, therefore nothing as far as a cap hit is concerned, making Benjamin an easy roster cut between now and Week 1.

Depending on what happens with his current injury status, the only way Benjamin hangs around into the regular season is if he thrives during training camp and/or solidifies a role as a return specialist, which is something he hasn’t done with any sort of regularity since 2018.

As of now, Benjamin is squarely on the bubble and could dangerously slide towards the weaker side.

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