Fans of the 49ers seem to fall into two categories right now: the people who think Dez Bryant would give this team its needed number-one receiver, and those who think that the number-one receiver is already on the team and that Bryant would be a waste of time and money better spent on the 49ers’ young receivers. The fact that the Bryant-to-49ers chatter is so heavy with NFL reporters, everyone gets the idea that the there is something wrong with the current 49ers’ receiver core.
This is just simply not true. It is true that their top receiving target last year (Carlos Hyde 59 receptions) is no longer on the team, but their WR1 (Pierre Garcon) also played in only eight games, putting up solid numbers (40 catches for 500 yards), which prorated over the 16 game season would be 80 catches for 1,000 yards (for those of you who hate math). Their WR2 (Marquis Goodwin) nearly broke the 1,000 yard marker last year, and the rookie slot receiver (Trent Taylor) was tied with the rookie tight end (George Kittle) for the third most receptions on the team (43 catches).
In year two of Kyle Shanahan’s offense all of the numbers for the WR core should increase. The NFL media appears to think that the current WR group is a bust, saying Pierre Garcon is over the hill, Marquise Goodwin was a one-year wonder, and Trent Taylor has a nasty case of the dropsies. That just doesn’t seem like reality to me. Let’s look at the group:
First, the guys we know will be on the team and putting up numbers. No one is calling for Garcon, Goodwin, or Taylor to be removed, and one must expect Dante Pettis to make the roster, whether he supplants Taylor as the slot receiver or not. Last year Jimmy Garoppolo averaged 260 yards passing per game, and that average will probably go up 30 to 50 yards a game this season, but even if he holds at 260 yards a game that would give the 49ers 4,160 yards this season. I think Garoppolo gets closer to 4,500 yards in 2018, but I’ll stick with last year’s stats for this year’s projections.
If Garcon stays healthy for 16 games, he should reach 1,000 yards receiving, and Goodwin showed his ability to work with Garoppolo the last five games of the year and should also reach 1,000 yards. Chalk Taylor up for 500 to 700 yards and Jerick McKinnon for about 500 yards and that leaves around 1,000 to 1,500 yards left over for Pettis, Kittle, Matt Breida, Kyle Juszczyk, and whoever the fifth receiver is to split between them.
These are all good numbers for the roles that we are seeing these players fill and in fact it may look that, unless Garoppolo throws for 5,000 yards, there might not actually be enough yards to go around for everyone to be happy with their individual seasons. Yes, the 49ers don’t have a Julio Jones/DeAndre Hopkins type player to dominate in the red zone, but as Shanahan has stated several times, players like those are a blessing, not a must-have.
Just look at Taylor Gabriel with and without Shanahan throughout his career. Gabriel owes Shanahan a lot for his current contract with the Falcons, and drove many fantasy football players mad with his lack of production outside of Shanahan’s system. Goodwin’s season last year was similar in that he hadn’t done much but run really fast straight lines until Shanahan got a hold of his impressive talents and placed him where he could have success.
What shows the real depth of this team is the bottom two spots on the projected WR depth chart. Last year Shanahan kept six wide receivers, and it is expected that he will keep the same number this year. With Garcon, Goodwin, Taylor, and Pettis locks to make the team, all of the other receivers will be battling for just two spots. This isn’t a lesser of two evils battle either. Last year those spots were held more or less for special team’s players, but that may not be the complete case. Depending on Pettis’ snap count on offense, he could very easily eat up Victor Bolden Jr’s purpose on the team. That leaves a four man battle for the last two WR spots.
Kendrick Bourne, an UDFA signing last year, has caught the eye of the media and shown he could mesh with Garoppolo in OTAs. Aaron Burbridge was a leader on special teams last year. Aldrick Robinson brings the most career experience to the last two roster spots. Then there is Richie James, a hyper athletic player who the 49ers may try to stash on the practice squad, but there is no guarantee that someone else doesn’t sign him before that could happen. Who Shanahan keeps is a toss up, he brought in all of those players, so its hard to say what traits he values more.
You hear “Trust the Process” a lot these days, but that is exactly what the 49er fans need to do right now. With Garoppolo delivering the dimes, the 49ers’ receiving corps should all be cashing those end zone checks all season.
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