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The Belle Glade Blur is coming to Santa Clara. After Emmanuel Sanders departed for the New Orleans Saints, and following a disappointing, impact-less season by Jordan Matthews, it was a matter of when, not if, the 49ers would sign a veteran wide receiver.
According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, that receiver is Travis Benjamin, a former Chargers wide out who has tremendous speed and return ability, on a one-year deal. He is familiar with Kyle Shanahan, who worked with him in 2014 with the Cleveland Browns.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 24, 2020
The report came just moments after ESPN’s Josina Anderson reported that Phillip Dorsett V, who she earlier reported was a target of the 49ers, had signed with the Seahawks.
WR Phillip Dorsett just texted me he is going to the #Seahawks on a 1-year deal.
— ig: josinaanderson (@JosinaAnderson) March 24, 2020
It was no coincidence that the move for Benjamin came directly after the Dorsett news. Clearly, Dorsett was the preferred option, but as Matt Barrows of The Athletic noted, the 49ers like Benjamin because of his return ability. He has four punt return touchdowns in his career, and provides the 49ers with a return option, though he only played in five games last season (6 catches, 30 yards) due to a quad injury that saw his season end on injured reserve.
The 49ers also were in on Phillip Dorsett, who ended up signing with the Seahawks. They like Benjamin because of his ability as a return man. https://t.co/Q1hvLz3kM4
— Matt Barrows (@mattbarrows) March 24, 2020
They used Richie James Jr. last season, who mainly remained on the roster for that ability. He was a very questionable returner, though, frequently misjudging when to catch the ball, and putting himself in dangerous positions. His dynamic upside and speed was counterbalanced by indecision. He muffed the first punt return chance he got in the Super Bowl.
Benjamin grew up with cornerback Janoris Jenkins in Belle Glade, Florida, where the two credit jackrabbit chasing for their speed. They grew up around sugar cane fields where farmers would burn the cane husks to make yielding the crop easier. The byproduct was a massive rabbit displacement; for Benjamin and Jenkins, it meant chasing rabbits, and developing speed and change-of-direction skills.
Benjamin’s best season was in 2015 with the Browns, the year after Shanahan departed. He had career-highs of 68 catches, 966 yards and 5 TDs. His numbers have declined since then in large part due to injuries and decreased involvement in the Chargers’ offense.