The 49ers were already facing serious depth issues when it came to wide receivers. Matters were made worse on Sunday when rookie, Brandon Aiyuk, pulled his hamstring in practice.
The news of Aiyuk’s pulled hamstring comes as a huge blow. Aiyuk was spending a lot of time running with the first team in camp, impressing day after day.
Per the SF Chronicle’s Eric Branch, Aiyuk was to play a big part for the Niners in 2020. Kyle Shanahan told reporters, “We’re expecting him to play a lot this year. When it’s that way, you’ve got a lot of pressure on you.” Shanahan went on to say, “So you can’t miss a day, or you get behind, and he’s doing that both mentally and physically.”
Prior to Aiyuk’s injury, Deebo Samuel suffered a Jones fracture in his foot, Jalen Hurd tore his ACL, and Richie James Jr. broke his wrist.
With Samuel, Aiyuk, Hurd, and James Jr. down and out for varying amounts of time this season, there is one glaring question hanging over this Super Bowl ready 49ers roster: what to make of the 49ers wide receivers?
After not suiting up for Super Bowl LIV, Dante Pettis was firmly on the outside looking in, heading into training camp. However, Pettis has returned this year more humble and hungry than the year before.
Pettis told reporters via Zoom on Saturday, “Last year, I wasn’t playing the way I know I could’ve. I know I was capable of more. And I wasn’t allowing myself to do that.”
The third-year wide-out then commented on his relationship with Kyle Shanahan, which hasn’t been ideal in the past. “Last year I took his coaching the wrong way, and I made it more personal and about me than about me realizing how good he knows I can be,”
With Pettis’ head in the right place, he can be a dangerous weapon on the gridiron. Possessing lethal agility and quickness, Pettis can kill a defensive back off the jump. If Pettis can deliver on a consistent basis, he can be the type of receiver a defense has to plan for.
A favorite amongst the 49er cognoscenti, Trent Taylor, has quickly re-established himself as a priority target in this 49er passing game.
A crafty slot receiver, Taylor enjoys a fantastic rapport with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Per Pro Football Reference, Taylor has been targeted 61 times in 19 games by Garoppolo.
Taylor missed all of 2019 due to a foot injury and complications from the proceeding surgeries. However, if camp reports are believed, Taylor has picked up where he left off in 2018. If healthy, expect to see a lot of Trent Taylor in 2020.
Renowned for his positive personality, Kyle Shanahan likened Kendrick Bourne’s mindset to his nine-year-old son, Bourne has carved out a place for himself in this 49er receiver room.
Kendrick Bourne stepped up down the stretch in 2019. Four out of the five touchdowns Bourne caught for San Francisco came from Week Nine onwards. Moreover, over half of Bourne’s yards total receiving yards (200 out of 358) were caught in that same time span.
While not putting up spectacular numbers, Bourne’s hard work and toughness have made him a valuable receiver for the 49ers.
49ers GM John Lynch has been busy supplying bodies for this thin group. Speedsters Tavon Austin and J.J. Nelson were brought in this last week. Furthermore, ex-Seahawks receiver Jaron Brown was signed to bolster the corps.
The speedsters do have a chance of seeing significant minutes this upcoming season due to the injuries to Hurd, Aiyuk, Samuel, and James Jr.
As well as pace, Austin and Brown both bring a great deal of experience to the wide receiver room. Both are NFL vets, registering 197 NFL appearances between them.
J.J. Nelson does also bring six years of NFL experience as well as younger legs. Any three of these speed demons could make the roster. Each player provides valuable depth at kick returner, punt returner, and receiver.
Luckily for the 49ers, Kyle Shanahan is the best offensive mind in football. Despite the litany of obstacles to overcome, 49ers fans still have reasons to be optimistic when it comes to their receivers. Dante Pettis is ready for his own personal ‘Revenge Tour.’ Trent Taylor is back to form a lethal partnership with Jimmy G., and Kendrick Bourne could be ready to take the leap this season.
On top of the emergence of Pettis, Taylor, and Bourne, the 49ers have a nice battle taking place between the speedsters. While slightly past their primes, Brown and Austin are capable veterans. Nelson is also an exciting addition.
When Samuel and Aiyuk do return early in the season, it will boost the 49ers wide receivers, not to save them.
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