© Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
INDIANAPOLIS — This type of hire has this potential impact.
On Wednesday, the 49ers officially brought on Wes Welker, the five-time Pro Bowl receiver, to be their new receivers coach. The hire was one of 12 changes made among the coaching and health and performance staffs. Later that day, Kyle Shanahan talked about the luxury of acquiring coaches who have played and coached. Welker, who spent the past two seasons as an offensive/special teams assistant with the Houston Texans, certainly qualifies.
The 49ers are already seeing the type of effect Welker can have on young players — without having to say much of anything. Two of the receivers the team met with at this week’s NFL Combine are South Carolina’s Deebo Samuel and Georgia’s Riley Ridley, who are potential options at either San Francisco’s No. 36 or No. 67 pick in April’s draft.
When Samuel and Ridley saw Welker in their individual meetings, they were thrown off.
“Oh, that’s Wes Welker!” said Samuel, who didn’t recognize him until he shook his hand.
Ridley, who grew up watching Welker as a Miami Dolphins fan, gushed when he saw the former slot receiver.
“When I seen him, I was like, ‘Oh!'” Ridley said. “I shook his hand. When I walked out of there, I pointed at him. I was like, ‘You’re the real deal. You’re the real deal.'”
Each team has 60 15-minute meetings at the annual Combine. Last year, eventual first-round pick Mike McGlinchey blew away the 49ers brass with the way he commanded the room, which speaks to the importance of these meetings.
The 49ers are evidently using some portion of their interviews on receivers, one of their biggest needs. Ridley can tell you that.
“They are looking for a receiver,” Ridley said after being asked about his takeaways from the meeting. “I hope it will be me. They are looking for guys that will get in and turn the system around. Those are some of the things that I want to be able to do. I want to be a leader. Like I said, I want to be a sponge. And I just want to listen and learn.”
Last month, the 49ers released Pierre Garcon after two injury-plagued seasons with the team. They are looking for a “Z” (flanker) receiver to help replace Garcon, alongside Kendrick Bourne, whose 487 yards led all 49ers receivers in 2018.
Samuel and Ridley are different types of players, but they could both slot in at that spot.
Last month, the 49ers coached Samuel in the Senior Bowl, making the Combine the second time the sides met. Samuel was one of the week’s standouts. A shifty, strong receiver who can play both inside and outside, Samuel piled up 62 catches for 882 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2018, despite inconsistent quarterback play.
When asked about his impressions of Shanahan, Samuel said he is “really cool” and that he “likes that playbook a lot.”
Ridley, the younger brother of Atlanta Falcons receiver, Calvin, feels his route-running, ability to separate, and catch the ball at its peak are his biggest strengths. Ridley recorded 43 catches for 559 yards and nine touchdowns this past season.
Regardless of whom the 49ers select, they will learn under someone with a history of maximizing his assets. And apparently, someone who makes strong first impressions.
“That’s a guy who not only was really talented but made it because of what was upstairs also and how he developed,” Shanahan said of Welker. “Knowing he’s put in the work and put in two hard years at Houston going the quality-control route, and just interviewing him, you could tell he was serious about becoming a coaching and was ready to put in the work, put in the hours.”