The move comes just at the start of training camp, six months on from that crushing Super Bowl loss to Kansas City. The Niners are determined to launch their ‘Revenge Tour’ and get back to the promised land. And for that, they’ll need all the help and depth they can get.
Austin and Nelon’s Role Within the 49ers Receiving Group
The additions of Austin and Nelson comes as a much-needed boost to the 49ers wide receiver corps. This is due to 2019 rookie standout Deebo Samuel missing all of training camp and veteran Travis Benjamin opting out due to the COVID-19 crisis.
With Samuel’s injury, the current 49er receiver corps lacks depth and a true X type pass catcher. While neither Austin nor Nelson were brought in to fix the latter, they will offer some stiff competition to this young and unproven unit. Especially after losing Emmanual Sanders to the Saints in free agency.
While Austin and Nelson could both see time on the field as wide-outs, the role of punt returner is likely where we’ll see these two explosive athletes make the biggest impact. The 49ers punt returner in 2019, Richie James Jr., is expected to miss a great deal of time in camp due to a wrist injury. James, who was coming into 2019 on the bubble, is expected to lose his job as the primary punt returner to either Austin or Nelson.
James did put up some solid numbers as the 49ers return man in 2019. Per Pro Football Focus, James ranked fifth in punt return yards (264), seventh in yards per punt return (8.0) and fourth in punt returns (33). However, the lengthy injury combined with Austin and Nelson’s speciality in that area is all-around bad news for Richie James Jr.
What Can Tavon Austin Bring to the Table for the 49ers?
Austin was once considered an explosive talent in the NFL. So much so that Jeff Fisher and the Rams gave Austin a 4-year $42 million contract in 2016. However, the Rams cut Austin in 2017. The Dallas Cowboys picked up Austin at a fraction of the cost for the last two seasons.
In Dallas, Austin suited up 21 times. During that time he amassed 21 receptions on 37 targets, 317 yards receiving and four total touchdowns (three receiving and one rushing).
Will Austin see any meaningful playtime at receiver for the Niners? After viewing the receiver depth chart it is likely. Outside of Samuel and rookie Brandon Aiyuk, the wide receiver number three spot is up for grabs. While Austin does face an uphill climb to get secure that spot, he has the ideal skill set to still be dangerous in this league.
What Does J.J. Nelson Bring to the Niners Wide Receiver Corps?
Nelson possesses a similar mold as Tavon Austin. He’s a skinny, slight speedster with the ability to take a ball to the house every time he touches it. He may even be on equal footing with Austin when it comes to chances of making the final roster.
Drafted out of the University of Alabama at Birmingham by Bruce Arians’ Cardinals, Nelson thrived as a deep threat . From 2015 – 2017, Nelson accumulated a total of 1375 yards receiving, 74 catches on 162 targets and 11 touchdowns. Although Shanahan’s scheme is markedly different from the one Arians ran in AZ, Nelson has shown he has the capacity to score when needed.
Out of both Austin and Nelson, it is J.J. that has a higher chance of playing any meaningful minutes for the Niners come the regular season. Although Austin has the experience, his body is showing signs of slowing down. However, Austin can still make an impact at punt returner and still has the ability to get people up and out of their seats on any given Sunday.
Check out the Overtime Heroics Merch!
And as always, continue to be part of the discussion at Overtime Heroics!