© Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Throughout the 2019 preseason, there was one theme that continued to resurface time and time again as it pertained to the 49ers’ wide receivers: no one was standing out. Despite repeated pleas from head coach Kyle Shanahan, it was a muddled mess of mediocrity.
“No, not to me,” Shanahan said on August 4, when asked if anyone stood out from that group. “There’s days — there’s days that you can see one guy, but to separate yourself, you’ve got to do it day in and day out and I’m still waiting for that.”
On August 6, he repeated that sentiment.
“There’s a number of guys out there and we need that group to step up,” Shanahan said. “We have some ability in that group, but the consistency isn’t there. Of course with rookies, but also the vets too. I’m expecting all those guys to do better and they all need to pick it up.”
He later praised Kendrick Bourne as “having a hell of a camp,” but outside of that, the head coach remained tight-lipped on whether he was impressed by anyone. But he eventually reserved the highest praise for Trent Taylor, though only after he was sent to injured reserve.
“He looked better than the player he was in 2017,” Shanahan said September 20. “He was having the best camp of anyone on our offense.”
Taylor’s 2019 season (following an injury-riddled 2018) was a calamity. A single Jones fracture (a break between the base and middle part of the fifth metatarsal of the foot) in his right foot, a seemingly minor injury, turned a season that was poised to be his breakout year into a genuine nightmare.
The injury was initially announced on the 49ers’ broadcast prior to the first preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys, taking many by surprise, including the 49ers. Back then, Shanahan said the team was hoping, but not counting on a Week 1 return for Taylor.
— KNBR (@KNBR) August 11, 2019
Taylor said the injury bothered him throughout camp and he eventually had an examination which revealed its extent. By Week 3, Taylor found himself on injured reserve. The litany of setbacks he suffered is almost unbelievable, and was during a camp, following that brutal 2018 campaign, in which he said he, “felt like me again.”
“Every time we tried to ramp up the work a little, it was like we’d take two steps back,” Taylor said in September. “It was taking too long to recover, just going for small bumps on workloads. I just have to be a little bit more patient than I want to be. I’ll be fine, ready to go once I clear IR or whatever. I don’t know exactly how it goes.”
Initially, there was optimism that Taylor would be able to have the surgery, take the eight-week minimum on injured reserve, or as long as he needed, and recover in time for the final stretch of the season. That hope vanished rapidly. After the Super Bowl, Taylor broke down the complications he dealt with, which necessitated multiple surgeries and antibiotic measures.
The first screw that was inserted into Taylor’s foot “wasn’t really working,” so he went back for a second surgery, for a different screw, at which point his foot became infected. Doctors then attempted to clean out the area and gave Taylor a PICC (peripherally inserted central catheter) line in his arm for five weeks, which he said, “wasn’t really getting to it.”
“So they go back in again and put something inside of my bone, an antibiotic tool inside my bone,” Taylor said. “Had that in there for like six weeks and then the last surgery was just them taking it out.”
That conversation was back on February 5, when Taylor said he would about to be able to stop using the walking boot he’d been using for the past several months. He said then he has “no clue” what his timeline was in terms of returning to working out and being physically prepared for OTAs and training camp.
The only two receivers who aren’t injury concerns and don’t have a contract status up in the air are Deebo Samuel and Richie James Jr. Taylor and Jalen Hurd were both sidelined from Week 3 on, Dante Pettis is in danger of being cut if he has another poor offseason, and Marquise Goodwin, who found himself on injured reserve with chronic knee/ankle issues, could save the 49ers $3.63 million in cap space by being cut and is reportedly on the trading block.
Kendrick Bourne will likely be back next season, but the 49ers have to wrangle with what type of restricted free agent tender to offer him, with a roughly $1.14 million difference between the original round tender at $2.14 million (which would yield nothing if the 49ers were outbid on Bourne in free agency), or the second-round tender at $3.28 million.
General manager John Lynch, when asked about drafting a wide receiver in this year’s draft — which would keep alive the 49ers’ unenvious, NFL-leading 17-year streak of drafting a wide receiver — pointed to having confidence in the current group, while simultaneously acknowledging the quality of this year’s draft.
Sufficed to say, Taylor’s standout preseason in 2019 means little now, but he will have a chance to prove himself again in camp. The former 2017 fifth-round pick was a Jimmy Garoppolo favorite back in his rookie year, when he had 43 receptions for 443 yards and a pair of touchdowns (with 19 receptions, 191 yards and one TD coming in the final five games, with Garoppolo as the starter), operating largely out of the slot.
The question, unfortunately, is whether Taylor can get healthy enough to prove he’s that same guy who had the “best camp of anyone on offense” as Shanahan described him.