Jones: Which rookie will shine against Carolina on Sunday?

When one of the NFL’s 32 teams finds themselves in a complete overhaul and rebuild, it makes sense to see a number of rookies be named active tn the opening day roster.

The San Francisco 49ers are no exception, having listed LB Reuben Foster, TE George Kittle as starters at their respective positions. Not to mention fellow rookies, DE Solomon Thomas, WR Trent Taylor, WR Victor Bolden Jr., will see some action as well. In actuality, Thomas is not listed as a starter but will be inserted into the lineup shortly after the game begins.

Any one of these men could have an amazing performance in their first ever professional regular season contest. I believe that one will stand out above the rest and show the world why the coaching staff and front office coveted them to the degree that they did.

The 49ers have been lacking in many areas over the last four seasons. Missing on a high number of draft picks as well as selecting players who it was known would not play in their first seasons left the roster bare and devoid talent.

Those days appear to over or at the very least slowly disappearing in the team’s rearview mirror. With GM John Lynch and HC Kyle Shanahan calling the draft day shots, it seems they are intent on taking players who, ya know, will actually play this season.

That being said, there was one player who many pundits felt was a reach being drafted in the fifth round. They cited lack of size and speed as a reason why he would have a difficult time being selected, let alone crack and NFL roster. This was also the same man who Shanahan said was his “draft crush” and one who the head coach believes can be an integral part of his team straight out off the gate. I believe that Taylor will show a great deal this Sunday against Carolina. He has been compared by many to Wes Welker, who if anyone remembers actually was not a selection in the 2004 NFL Draft. Shanahan didn’t want to let Taylor fall that far and then risk not being able to sign him as an undrafted rookie free agent.

As I mentioned earlier, the 49ers and talented roster have been far from synonymous since their NFC Championship and Super Bowl runs from 2011 to 2013. One area that has seen a significant downgrade in particular has been the slot receiver and the punt and kick return games.

The team has not had a punt or a kick return for a touchdown since 2010. That season Tedd Ginn Jr. returned two punts and one kickoff for scores. Since then? Nothing. Not even a return game that was consistently respectable.

That should change this season as Taylor will be returning punts starting Sunday and RB Raheem Mostert will be tasked with kick return duties. After seeing what Taylor was capable of at Louisiana Tech and so far this preseason, I believe he is due to break out and prove to his doubters that he did warrant being drafted at the pick he was last April.

In 2004, the then San Diego Chargers signed Wes Welker to an undrafted free agent contract, only to release him before the season began. Head coach Marty Schottenheimer would say later that cutting Welker was “the biggest mistake I ever made”.

As the season progresses, I believe that Taylor will show why he should have been selected even higher as well as prove himself more than worthy of his spot on the 49ers 53-man roster.

Again there are many other rookies who could destroy my prediction when the first whistle sounds in Santa Clara this Sunday. However with the aforementioned return game woes the 49ers have been saddled with the past six-years, the production the rookie wideout will bring could alter the outcome of the game.

Couple that with the fact that Taylor is listed second behind WR Pierre Garcon on the first depth chart of the season and the receiver could turn a great deal of heads against the Panthers out of the slot position. The newly released depth chart for the first game of the season is also the first one of Shanahan’s head coaching career, that alone should show the trust that he has in the rookie.

There is no way to discern how Taylor will be used in regular season action as of yet. That is something we will see come gameday. Anyone who knows Shanahan’s work as one the top offensive coordinators in the game, knows that he had not even begun to show what his plans are for this unit

One thing should be clear though. Trent Taylor will be a significant part of it.

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