49ers assistant Wes Welker envisions many receivers fitting in slot role

49ers assistant Wes Welker envisions many receivers fitting in slot role

It took Wes Welker three NFL seasons and a fortuitous trade to become a game-changing prototype.

Welker was an undrafted rookie whom the San Diego Chargers cut after Week 1 of the 2004 regular season. He gained some traction with the Miami Dolphins before his career shot upward with a trade that sent him to New England in 2007.

From there, the 5-foot-9, 185-pound slot receiver became one of the game's most prolific pass-catchers. Welker made five Pro Bowls and recorded 110-or-more receptions five times over the next six seasons with coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady.

“They were one of the first offenses to use the slot receiver on first and second down, where most offenses were doing it just on third down,” Welker, 38, the 49ers’ first-year wide receivers coach, said on the 49ers Insider Podcast.

“And really being able to take advantage of defenses that would stay in base personnel and basically try to match me up on a linebacker. New England always did a great job of trying to find those matchups.”

The game has changed over the past decade, as teams are not relying solely on a Welker-esque body type to be their slot receiver. Sure, the 49ers have Trent Taylor, who regularly draws comparisons to Welker, but the club also has Jordan Matthews (6-3, 215) running routes from the slot.

“There are certain quarterbacks that like more quick, in-and-out-of-breaks, sitting in the hole, that type of deal,” Welker said. “And some quarterbacks just like bigger targets. There are different ways, depending on what your scheme is and what the quarterback likes.

“And then also a lot of it is just having a smart guy that understands coverages and how to attack it, then using his skill set, whether it’s more bodying guys up and shoulder-punching through, or using quickness and acting like you’re breaking out and breaking in. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to it. You see both sides of it.”

Welker said he has yet to formulate a solid opinion on which style of slot receiver that 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo prefers, but he’s leaning toward the smaller, quicker player.

Welker said the 49ers’ passing game has a lot of flexibility because of the number of players who are capable of lining up in the slot.

“We have a lot of guys who can do it,” Welker said. “With all the formations and the way we move people around, I think it can be a lot of guys. I don’t think it’s just limited to Trent.”

Taylor had 43 receptions as a rookie – the same as tight end George Kittle in 2017 – before struggling with a back condition last season. Welker has been impressed with what he has seen from Taylor during organized team activities on the team's Santa Clara practice field.

“He’s been one of the bright spots in the spring and doing a really good job of winning on those choice routes and really understanding coverage and space and doing a really nice job out there,” Welker said.

Veteran addition Jordan Matthews has been impressive this spring, as he gives the 49ers a different body type out of the slot. Matthews, 26, registered eight touchdown catches in both of his first two seasons before being limited with injuries over the past three years. He signed a one-year contract with the 49ers in the offseason.

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Welker also mentioned Richie James, Marquise Goodwin and Dante Pettis as returning players who can run routes from the slot. The team also expects to have the option of using rookie Deebo Samuel in the slot.

“The more guys you can have that can play all over the field, and we can formation people up, and do different things, can put the defense in more conflict,” Welker said.

2020 NFL Draft profile: Why Alabama's Jerry Jeudy is what 49ers need

2020 NFL Draft profile: Why Alabama's Jerry Jeudy is what 49ers need

Editor's Note: NBC Sports Bay Area will preview the NFL Draft with a look at the 49ers’ top needs, profiles of prospects that might be good fits, along with some hidden gems in the later rounds. In this installment, we profile Alabama wide receiver Jerry Jeudy.

Top NFL draft prospect Jerry Jeudy could be exactly what 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan has been looking for. 

Shanahan has remained steadfast in his belief that you don’t have to be the biggest or fastest wide receiver to be the most effective and productive. There are several other qualities that remain higher on Shanahan’s list, and it appears that Jeudy checks most, if not all, of those boxes. 

Michael Locksley, Jeudy’s coach and offensive coordinator during the receiver's first two seasons with the Alabama Crimson Tide, spoke to NBC Sports Bay Area about the receiver’s unique talents.

[RELATED: Latest Mock: 49ers don't get Jeudy]

“Can’t say enough about his ability as a route-runner,” Locksley said. “I think with Jerry, it’s his ability and suddenness he has to get in and out of a break, whether it’s working back toward the ball which is the toughest breaks that receivers make, when they’re working back toward the quarterback.

“He has the ability to be full speed and drop his weight – or, as we say, sink his hips -- to stop on a dime, and he always gives the illusion of speed always at the top of the route but is able, without taking the little small steps you see people normally have to take to put his foot in the ground and change direction.”

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Leigh Steinberg of Steinberg Sports and Entertainment, who represents Jeudy, was equally impressed by his client’s route running. 

“He might be the best route runner that I’ve ever seen in college in my 40 years,” Steinberg told NBC Sport Bay Area. “He runs the most precise routes. He’s also very smart.” 

With precise route running and the ability to change direction on a dime, Jeudy is able to get separation, which Shanahan has repeatedly said is one of the most important aspects to being a receiver. 

Another trait that Shanahan looks for was exemplified by All-Pro tight end George Kittle and receiver Deebo Samuel throughout 2019: Gaining yards after the catch. 

“Tremendous run-after catch ability,” Locksley said of the Alabama receiver. “He is such a loose-limbed, loose-body guy. You watch him and his ability to make people miss is as good as I’ve ever seen.”

Steinberg noted that Jeudy has impressed him off the field as well, most notably when the Alabama star met Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice while in Miami for Super Bowl LIV. 

“The most impressive thing I’ve seen from him was how he interacted with Hall of Fame receivers while in Miami for the Super Bowl,” Steinberg said. “He asked Jerry Rice, Michael Irvin and Cris Carter what their secrets to longevity were. He’s bright enough to use his time with the best, to enhance his own performance.”

[RELATED: Simms: Jeudy not loved by all teams]

Jeudy was extremely productive in his three seasons at Alabama, catching 159 passes for 2,742 yards, 26 touchdowns and an average of 17.2 yards per catch. It is inevitable that he is a player that will have an impact on a team's offense. What the 49ers will do with the No. 13 overall selection in the draft, however, is much less certain.

NFL draft profile: Jerry Jeudy

Height: 6-foot-1
Weight: 193 pounds
College: Alabama
Career stats: 159 catches for 2,742 yards and 26 touchdowns

Combine measurables
40-yard dash: 4.45 seconds (11th among wide receiver class)
Vertical jump: 35.0 inches
Broad jump: 120.0 inches
20-yard shuttle: 4.53 seconds

What experts are saying
Mel Kiper, ESPN: “Jerry Jeudy is a precise kid, running routes, first out of his break. Reminds me a lot of Marvin Harrison.”
Todd McShay, ESPN: “I think he’s one of the best five players in the entire draft.”
Daniel Jeremiah, NFL Media: "Bama WR Jerry Jeudy = smooth operator. He’s such an easy mover. Reminds me a little of Robert Woods coming out of USC. Same frame, same understanding/instincts."
Josh Norris, NBC Sports: "I know it’s easy to compare players from the same school, but it’s easy to see Calvin Ridley in Jerry Jeudy’s game."

Projected round: First (top 15 overall)

Seahawks' Russell Wilson has framed Joe Montana 49ers jersey at home


Seahawks' Russell Wilson has framed Joe Montana 49ers jersey at home

Russell Wilson probably will never receive anything more than begrudging respect from 49ers fans, barring a Richard Sherman-esque turn. They have to like his taste in quarterbacks, though. 

The Seattle Seahawks star revealed to NBC Sports' Mike Tirico on “Lunch Talk Live” on Monday that he has a framed Joe Montana jersey in his home weight room. 

“We got [Wayne] Gretzky,” Wilson told Tirico (via NBC Sports Northwest). “He's obviously, arguably the greatest hockey player of all time. [Michael Jordan] behind us, that's a good one. I've gotten to know him over the years. I've gotten to be pretty close to him, gotten to know Joe [Montana] a little bit too."

Let’s follow Wilson’s logic here. Gretzky and Jordan, respectively, are widely considered the greatest hockey and basketball players of all time (no disrespect to Mario Lemieux or LeBron James). 

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Montana’s jersey is right up there with the two, so Wilson seems to agree with his biggest rivals’ fan base as to who the NFL’s best-ever quarterback -- if not player -- is. The jersey placement next to two other GOATs seems too conspicuous to be a coincidence. 

Wilson’s high regard for Montana won’t win him any converts among the Faithful, but perhaps they’ll ease up on the boos the next time he takes the field at Levi’s Stadium. 

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