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49ers Camp: Injuries pile up, wide receiver predictions

The San Francisco 49ers will begin their preseason against the Dallas Cowboys Saturday without two key defensive players. Rookie defensive end Nick Bosa and veteran cornerback Jason Verrett sprained their ankles in Wednesday’s practice and will be sidelined for the entire preseason.

The 49ers are optimistic that both will be ready for Week 1 of the regular season, but they join a growing list of already injured 49ers.

Results from Thursday’s 11-on-11 drills

Jimmy Garoppolo: (29 snaps)

Nick Mullens: (17 snaps)

  • 9-for-13 passing (69%)
  • Two touchdown passes (Breida, Kaden Smith)
  • Completed passes to Kittle (x2), Breida (x1), Jalen Hurd (x4), Samuel (x1), Smith (x1)
  • Ran the ball with Raheem Mostert (x2), Breida (x1), Austin Walter (x1)

C.J. Beathard: (17 snaps)

  • 8-for-15 passing (53%)
  • Two touchdown passes (Shawn Poindexter, Richie James Jr.)
  • Completed passes to Taylor (x1), Mostert (x1), James Jr. (x2), Poindexter (x1), Levine Toilolo (x1), Samuel (x2)
  • Ran the ball with Samuel (x1), Mostert (x1)

A very crowded wide receiver group

What the 49ers plan to do at the wide receiver position is a mystery to most. Head Coach Kyle Shanahan has yet to figure out where each of his receivers stands in terms of starting or coming off the bench this season.

Through eleven days of training camp, it has become clear that Taylor, Pettis, Samuel, and Hurd are near locks to make the final 53-man roster. This leaves receivers such as Marquise Goodwin, Kendrick Bourne, Matthews, and James Jr. competing for the final spots.

One standout in that deep wide receiver group has been Taylor. Last season he battled injuries and was a shell of his 2017 self. Throughout training camp thus far, Taylor has arguably been the most impressive receiver. Catching five touchdown passes in the past two days of practice alone, Taylor is re-kindling that electric connection he had with Garoppolo towards the end of 2017. Kyle Shanahan gave his thoughts on what he’s seen from Taylor thus far:

“Trent, he’s one of our better man-to-man players, but he also has a feel out there where he can just feel open areas. … I mean, if he sees something and changes a route it’s usually because he should. And I think Jimmy has a good feel for him in that way and sometimes when guys are like that you’ll stay on them a little bit longer than usual instead of progressing to the next option.”

Predictions for the final roster

If we were to build a list of wide receivers that would make this roster, it would be difficult, because it would be too early to know if Shanahan plans on keeping six or seven receivers on the final 53-man roster. With other areas of the team battling injuries, the extra roster depth may be utilized to support positions such as the defensive line, defensive backfield, offensive line and running back positions.

Hypothetically, let’s say the 49ers keep six receivers on their final roster.

If they were to keep only six, let’s take away Taylor, Pettis, Samuel, and Hurd, with the expectation that they seem to be locks to make the roster. Assuming those four make the roster, that only leaves two spots left.

With only two spots left, let’s give one to Richie James Jr. because of his value in the return game. In 2018, James had a solid season returning punts and kickoffs, most notably one that he returned for a touchdown against the rival Seattle Seahawks.

That leaves one spot remaining, and a battle between Marquise Goodwin, Kendrick Bourne, and Jordan Matthews. At first glance, this may seem like an easy decision; Goodwin should get a spot on this roster, because of what he’s brought to the team, and the speed he can display on the field.

As tempting as it may be to assume Goodwin makes the team, the other two receivers add some unique traits that may benefit the team more. Jordan Matthews developed a nice rapport with Garoppolo throughout OTA’s and the beginning of training camp, but has slowed down as of late.

Matthews (6-foot-3) is the second tallest wide receiver on the team, behind Jalen Hurd (6-foot-4) and gives the 49ers a tall, big-bodied, veteran, wide receiver who can pose as a red-zone threat, something the team has been lacking. There are reports of his slow burst off the line, and right now, would probably not make the final roster.

That leaves Goodwin and Bourne for the final wide receiver spot. Bourne led the 49ers in receiving yards last season with 42 catches for 487 yards, while the rest of the wide receiving core battled injuries all season. Bourne is the 49ers third-tallest wide receiver at 6-foot-1, and his natural ability on the field has always been praised by 49ers coaches.

Following practice on Thursday, Shanahan was asked which receivers on the 49ers have the most aggressive hands on the team:

“It’s different. When you come to aggressive hands, I mean there’s guys with good hand eye, which [WR] Dante [Pettis] is up there with his hand-eye and stuff, but when you go to the strongest most aggressive hands, I’m going to go with [WR Kendrick] Bourne, Deebo and Jalen.”

Final predictions

How healthy the remainder of the 49ers roster is, will ultimately play a part in the decision to keep six or seven receivers. For now, let’s make some predictions based on the assumption that the 49ers are relatively healthy heading into Week 1 of the regular season.

  • Dante Pettis – The second-year receiver is expected by most to have a breakout season this year. There should be no surprises here, as Pettis will likely serve as the 49ers number one receiver.
  • Trent Taylor– Having a good slot receiver over the middle of the field is very important in most NFL offenses. Taylor’s phenomenal camp thus far will lead him into that starting slot receiver role.
  • Deebo Samuel– The rookie wide receiver taken in the second round of this year’s draft is expected to see plenty of passes opposite Pettis. His speed, and ability to break off plays, especially on slant routes, should allow him to see plenty of targets in his rookie season.
  • Jalen Hurd– Another rookie wide receiver, taken in round three of this years draft, has been turning heads because of his size, versatility, and play-making ability. In college, Hurd played both running back and wide receiver and may just see some snaps as a tight end this season as well.
  • Richie James Jr.– The wide receiver/return man specialist should make the roster due to his value in the return game and as a backup to Taylor in the slot. James had plenty of success returning kicks and punts last season and should retain that role in 2019.
  • Kendrick Bourne– I gave the final wide receiver spot on this roster to Bourne, and that may come as a surprise because of what Goodwin has done in his tenure with the team. If the 49ers were a team that lacked speed on offense, I would have chosen Goodwin over Bourne, but yet, they are stacked with speedy playmakers at the wide receiver and running back positions. The 49ers drafted Bourne in 2017, and it would be surprising if they were this quick to move on from him.

Ultimately, the 49ers have may have a few tough decisions to make as the regular season is quickly approaching. If indeed Goodwin does not make the final 53-man roster, it would not come as a surprise if the 49ers decided to trade him and get back some draft capital. A wide receiver-needy team such as the New York Giants might make sense if Goodwin is indeed on the outside looking in.

Notes From Thursday

  • Shanahan confirmed that both Bosa and Jason Verrett will be sidelined the entire preseason while they proceed cautiously with their two key defensive players.
  • Prior to Thursday’s practice, the 49ers made two roster moves, signing defensive lineman Jeremiah Valoaga and waiving wide receiver Chris Thompson.
  • Shanahan spoke about the NFL’s preseason format, saying that he believes they “absolutely do not need four preseason games,” while adding that he “would rather have zero games than four.”
  • With Jimmy Garoppolo not playing in the preseason opener on Saturday, Shanahan said he has not yet decided whether C.J. Beathard or Nick Mullens will get the start yet.
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