Heading into the 2019 season, it was a well known fact that George Kittle would be the number one threat in the San Francisco 49ers passing game. What we didn’t know was if there would be any other viable options in the receiving corps that could consistently take pressure off the Pro Bowl tight end.
After three games, while it still doesn’t look like there’s one alpha-dog in the group, the Niners receivers have done a good job playing a role and making contributions to help the team win, especially Deebo Samuel and Marquise Goodwin.
Samuel, a first-year player out of South Carolina, has hit the ground running in the early stages of his NFL career. The rookie’s been targeted 14 times total, and has 11 catches (78.5% catch rate), 147 yards and a touchdown. The last San Francisco rookie wideout to come close to that production in their first three games was Michael Crabtree in 2009. Crabtree had 14 receptions on 23 targets (60.8% catch rate) for 167 yards.
While it’s still a little early to look at projections, Samuel is averaging 3.6 catches and 49 yards per game. Over a full season that’s 58 catches for 784 yards. No 49ers receiver had more than 42 catches or 487 yards last season, so Samuel’s production is already an upgrade from most of what we saw a year ago.
After Goodwin’s disappointing 2018, Kyle Shanahan talked about “less is more” with the veteran speedster, and so far it’s worked out well. In the last two games, Goodwin’s caught five-of-five targets with the receptions going for 38 yards (touchdown), 14 yards, 25 yards, 16 yards, and 25 yards. That’s an average of 23.6 yards per catch.
While it’s unlikely Goodwin will ever get back to the amount of volume he saw in 2017 that helped him gain 962 receiving yards, he seems to have found a perfect niche in Shanahan’s offense.
As far as the rest of the group, what’s most critical is that Dante Pettis can find his footing, and move past the injuries and inconsistent play that have slowed him down in the early going. Pettis had a clutch touchdown grab to help the Niners upend the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 3, but has seen the fewest targets of any wide out with six, and has only managed 27 yards on his five receptions.
Beyond Pettis, and with third round pick Jalen Hurd out for an extended period of time, the eventual return of Trent Taylor will no doubt add another viable option for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, and push Richie James and Kendrick Bourne down the depth chart. What it all adds up to is a unit that may not have a star at the moment, but does have a deep and reliable stable of pass catchers.