The San Francisco 49ers are in desperate need of a talent infusion at wide receiver. How did a franchise that once featured Jerry Rice, John Taylor, and Terrell Owens arrive at this point?
Trent Baalke has invested seven picks in wide receivers over the last seven drafts but those seven picks (Aaron Burbridge, DeAndre Smelter, Bruce Ellington, Quinton Patton, AJ Jenkins, Ronald Johnson, and Kyle Williams) haven’t produced even one quality NFL caliber starter.
Baalke also passed on young emerging wide receivers multiple times along the way. For example, in 2014, he chose Marcus Martin in round three in front of the Cardinals’ John Brown and the Colts’ Donte Moncrief. Later in the same round, Baalke chose Brandon Thomas, an injured offensive lineman, 18 picks before the Pittsburgh Steelers chose Martavis Bryant. Interestingly, Thomas was just traded on Sunday to the Detroit Lions for veteran journeyman wide receiver Jeremy Kerley. How ironic is that? How different would the 49ers’ current situation be if they had Brown, Moncrief and Bryant at receiver?
That’s enough of the history lesson. Let’s not live in the past. Currently the position group looks like this: Torrey Smith, Quinton Patton, Bruce Ellington, DeAndrew White, and Kerley. Smith has been targeted just once in 31 pass routes run during the last three preseason games and last year caught only 33 passes and scored just four touchdowns. Patton has played three NFL seasons and has produced very little (36 receptions, three touchdowns). Ellington has explosive traits but virtually no production to date (two receptions for 18 yards last year) and can’t seem to stay on the field due to an assortment of injuries.
On Tuesday at 1 pm PST all NFL rosters must be trimmed to 75 players and after next weekend’s fourth and final preseason games, all teams will pare down to 53-man rosters. I’m a solution guy, so I invested some weekend hours in canvassing every NFL roster in search of help for Baalke’s 49ers at the wide receiver position. My full breakdown is below. I grouped the potentially available wide receivers into six categories. Most of the receivers I’ll mention here will NOT be cut loose or traded, but one or two will be and hopefully Baalke will pounce.
Category No. 1: Superstar talents that may be available for non-football reasons.
Browns receiver Josh Gordon was an All-Pro WR in 2013 (87 receptions for 1,646 yards, 9 TDs), but has been limited to five games in 2014 and 2015 due to arrests and drug suspensions. He has since been re-instated by the NFL, but will miss the first four games this season. The Browns don’t want to move him and reportedly wanted a 2nd round pick for Gordon when they were talking trade. I’d give them the 2nd round pick they seek to solve the 49ers’ issues at receiver immediately.
Category No. 2: Veterans who may get cut but still can produce.
Titans WR Harry Douglas and Giants WR Dwayne Harris are two productive, versatile, veteran receivers who may get lopped off and find themselves looking for work.
Category No. 3: Late bloomers with unique athletic ability.
Some receivers transition slowly to the NFL. It’s a position that demands proper technique, footwork, and timing and occasionally you see players with top shelf physical traits emerge in year three or four. Stephen Hill (cut Sunday by Carolina) and the Chiefs’ D’Anthony Thomas (former Oregon star) could become available.
Category No. 4: Former high round draft choices who have under achieved for their original teams for whatever reason and could be waived or traded for future draft picks.
This list includes the Vikings’ Cordarrelle Patterson, the Texans’ Jaelen Strong, the Titans’ Justin Hunter, the Jets’ Devin Smith, the Eagles’ Nelson Agholor, and the Eagles’ Reuben Randle (cut on Sunday).
Category No. 5: Quality 2nd year players who are improving, but may get waived or traded due to a roster squeeze with their current team.
The Seahawks’ Antwan Goodley, Titans’ Tre McBride, Patriots’ Deandre Carter, Bills’ Dezmin Lewis and the Broncos’ Jordan Taylor are options here. Of this group, Taylor and Goodley are the most intriguing.
Category No. 6: Rookies that were late round picks or undrafted free agents.
This is the best group to shop from because NFL GMs often make mistakes in evaluating rookies. Rookie receivers can get lost in the cutdown shuffle and waived or put on practice squads because they have no role on special teams and are deemed less valuable. There are six receivers that I’m looking for on the cutdown lists: the Packers’ Geronimo Allison, Rams’ Paul McRoberts, Panthers’ Keyarris Garrett, Steelers’ DeMarcus Ayers, Dolphins’ Jakeem Grant, and Vikings’ Moritz Boehringer.
Good luck Trent Baalke. I’ve done what I can to help you. My first three choices would be Allison, McRoberts or Garrett because all three are big wide receivers (preferred by Chip Kelly), have enormous upside and could become excellent starters at receiver in time.