There are many questions regarding the San Francisco 49ers depth chart heading into the 2018 NFL season. In this multiple part series, I will examine four different positional groups before the off-season and training camp battles begin to unravel. The four positions that really interest me this year are wide receivers, cornerbacks, & offensive/defensive line. In part one I will be looking at one of the most exciting up and coming positional groups on the 49ers roster, which is the wide receivers unit in my opinion. The front office and coaching staff continued to add a few additional pieces in this past offseason which will make for a very intriguing training camp. The overall receiver group is young — averaging just about 25 years of age and, will be counted on to make an impact on not only this upcoming season but for years to come. With head coach Kyle Shanahan’s amazing ability to scheme his players open, look for them to achieve career highs and reach their individual potential but they must first make the team. Here is a look at all of the team’s wide receivers including the locks, the questionable, and the long shots to make the final roster.
The ten year veteran was an extremely productive receiver on the team for the first eight games of the 2017 season with 40 receptions totaling 500 yards but was not able to reach the end-zone. Unfortunately his year came to a sudden halt when he suffered a non-displaced fracture of the C-5 pedicle which landed him on the injury reserve. Garcon is not considered a number one receiver in most people’s minds but you would be hard pressed to find a more consistent pass catcher than he has been throughout his career. He received an 82.5 PFF grade in the limited games that he played which ranked him as the sixteenth best receiver in the league. Garcon has been one of the most sure handed receivers since 2015 with a drop rate of only 3.05%. If he is able to fully recover from his neck injury, there is no doubt in my mind that he will be one of the team’s starters and his numbers should only increase with Jimmy Garoppolo under center.
The lightning fast receiver had a breakout season in 2017, he hauled in 56 receptions for 962 yards and two touchdowns. Goodwin only had 49 receptions and 780 yards in the four seasons prior to joining the 49ers. Sadly, he had one of the most memorable moments last year when he played in a game shortly after him and his wife lost their baby due to complications during pregnancy. Before coming to San Francisco, he was only viewed as a one-trick pony as just a speedster with the Buffalo Bills but he began to change that narrative last year in a big way and will look to even top that production in the upcoming season. He will need to continue to keep working on enhancing his overall route tree. He earned a 80.0 PFF grade in 2017, which placed him as the #26 receiver in the NFL. Goodwin should continue building on his rapport with Garoppolo and he should benefit considerably from the return of Pierre Garcon.
The shifty slot receiver — drafted out of Louisiana Tech by the 49ers in the 5th round of the 2017 draft, he had 43 receptions for 430 yards, which put him in third place among all rookie receivers and added in two touchdowns. He seemed to form quite the connection with Garoppolo towards the end of the season and received a overall PFF grade of 71.6. He is very effective running the slant route by using his quickness to gain separation, which is extremely valuable in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. Taylor was a monster on third downs last season, bringing in 63% of his catches on the crucial down. He is known to have strong and reliable hands but he had four drops out of 47 catch-able balls which is a slight concern. His best performance came in week 13 versus the Chicago Bears, when he grabbed six receptions for 92 yards. Taylor gives the 49ers added value in special teams as he had 30 punt returns in 2018 for 281 yards but the team did decide to add a few draft prospects that could relieve him of his full time returning duties.
Dante Pettis (R)
The 49ers traded up in the 2nd round (44 overall) to snag wide receiver Dante Pettis out of the University of Washington. He was quite productive while in the Pacific Northwest — as he caught 163 receptions for 2,256 receiving yards and 24 touchdowns. He certainly has enough speed and athletic ability as he ran a 4.48 40 yard dash along with a 36 inch vertical leap at his pro day. There has been a lot of chatter that Pettis is just a slot receiver but that is far from the truth. He is an ideal, versatile receiver for the 49ers, as the polished route-runner is able to lineup at multiple positions on the field. He has adequate height, quickness, and leaping ability to become a surprising big target in the red-zone. If he struggles early to see the field as a receiver, he could also make an instant impact in special teams, as he set the NCAA record with nine touchdowns.
Last season, the 49ers might have struck gold by landing Bourne as a undrafted free agent out of Eastern Washington. Bourne started out on the practice squad, but he finished his rookie year with a lot of hype with 16 receptions on 34 targets for 257 receiving yards — posting an average of 16.1 yards per catch. His biggest game came versus the Tennessee Titans when he had four catches on six targets for 85 yards. Some question Kendrick’s deep speed but he does his best to make up for it in shiftiness and quick acceleration. He also has excellent after the catch ability. Bourne is likely to be able to secure a roster spot but it’s far from guaranteed, and he will need to show the coaching staff that he has made a leap from where he was last year. He might be the 49ers receiver that has the most to gain and the most to lose from this offseason, he could range from getting an abundance of offensive snaps to being inactive riding the bench or released. There is an sense of excitement throughout the Niners organization and fanbase with Bourne, but he will be battling with newcomer Dante Pettis for offensive snaps. The praise for him is well warranted, as he has all of the tools to be able to increase his role with the team. He has limited experience in special teams so that could hurt him a little bit during cut-down time, but if he displays improvement as a receiver and can gain more trust from the quarterback, he can hopefully become more of a consistent target this season.
Richie James (R)
The electrifying receiver out of Middle Tennessee State University was selected by the team with the 240th overall pick in the seventh round. The undersized prospect (5’8” 176 lbs) has some enticing traits — he ran a 4.48 second 40-yard dash with a 35- inch vertical jump, a 4.16 20-yard shuttle, a 122-inch broad jump, and a 6.87 second in the 3-cone drill at the Combine. James does seem to struggle off of the release but he is a polished route runner who is a true home run hitter. Even with his lack of size, James has high level of toughness and shows that off with his willingness as a blocker. When he is healthy, he has proven to be productive, he ended his college career at MTSU as the program’s all-time leader in both receiving yards and touchdowns (243 receptions, 3249 receiving yards, 23 receiving touchdowns, 544 rushing yards on 61 attempts, five rushing touchdowns). He is a versatile weapon who can be lined up all over the field as a WR, RB and Wildcat QB. Even though he only had limited oppornituties while in college, he could be a sleeper for kickoff and punt returning duties, this could be his best chance to see the field in his first season. James will have to prove to be at full strength as he’s recovering from two separate injuries to his ankle and collarbone. Although he was quick to remind us during our interview with him that he is now 100% healed, and ready to go. A lazy analysis of James would quickly compare him to Trent Taylor because of his size but he is a much more dynamic player and with his superior athletic ability, and that gives him additional game changing potential. He will look to impress the coaching staff early and often to help potentially secure the last receiving job, otherwise he would be a strong candidate for the practice squad.
The six-year veteran was brought in during the 2017 offseason because of his familiarity with Kyle Shanahan’s offense and the ability to help ease the transition into the new system for the other receivers that had zero to limited experience in it. He was able to help contribute last year but mostly in the beginning of the season and seemed to be getting fazed out towards the end in favor of younger receivers like Trent Taylor and Kendrick Bourne. He was able to bring in 19 receptions for 260 yards and two touchdowns but received a PFF grade of 46.9 which ranks him #96 overall. Robinson would give the team added experience if he remained on the team but he might be too similar to what they already have to warrant an roster spot. He will be turning 30 years old at the start of next season and will be in for an tremendous fight to maintain with the team, which I don’t think he will be able to and will end up being traded or released.
Victor Bolden Jr
Bolden Jr is another undrafted gem that the 49ers picked up last year, the all-purpose prospect had 167 receptions for 1,849 receiving yards with seven touchdowns. While in college at Oregon State, he was a jack of all trades as he added in 93 carries for 731 rushing yards for three touchdowns and took back a total of four kickoff/punt returns on special teams. He looked ready to contribute especially on special teams after some stellar kickoff and punt returns in preseason. He took back a kickoff for 104 yards and a punt for 92 yards, both resulting in touchdowns. Unfortunately it might come down to a numbers for Bolden. He appeared in nine games last season but was not able to make an impact as a receiver as he only saw 27 offensive snaps, however he did return 19 kickoffs for 396 yards averaging 20.8 YPR. He is a smooth route-runner but he lacks the ideal deep speed and an second gear. With the emergence of Bourne and the additions of special teams aces Pettis and James, I don’t expect him to make the initial roster but I do hope that they will stash him on the practice squad.
Steven Dunbar (R)
Dunbar was signed by the 49ers after going undrafted last month and will look to showcase his size to land a spot on the roster. While he has the much needed build that the team is lacking within the position group, he will have to prove that he has adequate speed to get deep separation consistency. Dunbar is a natural pass-catcher who uses his quickness and ability to track the ball in the air to be a reliable target. He doesn’t shy away from contact after the catch, he’s pretty aggressive and uses his big frame to break tackles. He finished his college career ranking 10th all-time at the University of Houston in both total receptions and receiving yards, he hauled in 180 passes for 2,430 yards and eleven touchdowns as a Cougar. Dunbar is a hard worker and improved every year at Houston and will look to continue that trend at the next level. It was a slight surprise to me that he ended up going undrafted because I believe that he could be a dependable option in the right offense. He will need to have an impressive training camp to make the roster but he has the skills and upside to definitely be considered for the practice squad.
Burbridge is the last standing wide receiver from the Trent Baalke era, he was selected by the past regime in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL Draft. He has not made much of impact since joining the team as he was pushed to the bottom of the depth chart and has battled through his share of injuries. He is not the most gifted athletic and lacks deep speed but he is a great competitor, refined route-runner, willing blocker and won’t hesitate to go over the middle to make contested catches. Burbridge started three games in 2016 and brought in seven receptions for 88 yards. In 2017, he injured his hamstring early in training camp but was never able to fully recover from it and was placed on season-ending IR. Before the injury, he seemed to have a decent opportunity to make the team because of the lack of depth but after several additions to the unit in the last year, I don’t believe that he has much of a chance at this point and is likely to be released.
The 49ers signed McCaffrey after Burbridge was put onto injured reserve, he went undrafted in the 2016 NFL Draft. He is best known by being the son of legendary wide receiver Ed and the brother of recent top-ten draft pick Christian but he had a solid college career of his own while at Duke. McCaffrey caught 117 passes for 1,341 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. He adds some much needed size to the group and is a polished route-runner with sought after athleticism but he is facing an uphill battle to make the roster and is likely to be released.
The position battles in camp will be rigorously intense, as the 49ers can only keep a certain amount of the receivers and will have to balance out the individual’s overall potential while adding in their special teams value. The team hasn’t scored on a punt return in the last 198 attempts dating back to the beginning of the 2011 season, which could help determine which players will stay and who ends up getting released. It will be interesting to see how everything plays out but I predict that the team will decide to carry six wide receivers. The depth chart will be Pierre Garcon, Marquise Goodwin, Dante Pettis, Trent Taylor, Kendrick Bourne and Richie James as the players that will make the final roster.
As always, Stay Faithful!