49ers eye wide receivers to pair with Dante Pettis at NFL Scouting Combine

49ers eye wide receivers to pair with Dante Pettis at NFL Scouting Combine

INDIANAPOLIS — The 49ers invested a second-round draft pick on wide receiver Dante Pettis last year.

Pettis enters the offseason as a projected starter after averaging 17.3 yards and catching five touchdowns on 27 receptions.

“He finished the year up strong,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “He finished the year up as probably our best guy, and I expect him to come in next season even better. He's a guy that can come in and play all three (receiver) positions.”

Now, the question is who will join Pettis in the starting lineup. The other starter likely is not currently even on the team's roster.

The 49ers have shown zero interest in mercurial veteran Antonio Brown, who it seemed always was in the center of drama or personality issues during his time with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The veteran market does not look enticing. That could mean the 49ers again will use their second-round pick, No. 36 overall, on a wide receiver.

“They are looking for a receiver, and I hope it will be me,” Georgia wide receiver Riley Ridley said after meeting with the 49ers. “They are looking for guys to turn this system around. I want to be a leader. I want to be a sponge, and I want to listen and learn.”

Ridley was among a large group of receivers with whom the 49ers met at the NFL Scouting Combine. They held formal, 15-minute interviews with many — and informal, shorter conversations with everyone else.

Veteran Marquise Goodwin started 24 of the 27 games in which he appeared the past two seasons with the 49ers. The club originally signed him to fill the role that Taylor Gabriel played in Shanahan’s offense with the Atlanta Falcons.

But because the 49ers did not have anyone better, they were forced to play Goodwin a lot — too much, according to Shanahan. The 49ers believe Goodwin’s speed can be better utilized in a specialized role.

Kendrick Bourne finished the season as the 49ers’ top-producing wide receiver, and caught 42 passes for 487 yards and four touchdowns. The 49ers want to get better at that spot, too.

The 49ers are looking for a bigger receiver — but not at the expense of speed, quickness, agility and the route-running skills to get open. Shanahan does not believe height is a great attribute for a receiver if he lacks other skills to separate.

There might not be one receiver — or a cluster of them — firmly established as first-round draft picks and game-changers. So each player is trying to distinguish himself in a crowded field.

“Ultimately, it’s my ball skills and the way I play, my mentality, how I go get the ball,” said Kelvin Harmon of North Carolina State. “Those 50-50 balls are normally 90-10 balls my way. And if I don’t catch it, it’s not going to be an interception.”

“Personally, I'm the best receiver in the draft by far,” said Ole Miss wide receiver A.J. Brown, who met with the 49ers on Friday night. “I'm versatile. I can play inside and outside. I run great routes. I have strong hands, and I'm a man after the catch. A lot of guys aren't like that. I'm very different."

Brown’s college teammate, D.K. Metcalf, could be the first wide receiver off the board. He met with the 49ers earlier in the week. He is likely to be selected before the 49ers go on the clock for their second-round pick.

South Carolina receiver Deebo Samuel had, in essence, a five-day interview with the 49ers during the Senior Bowl. He got his first brief experience with Shanahan’s playbook and stood out during the week of practices.

“Coming from college there is really not a whole lot of wording, so it was really just getting the wording down at the Senior Bowl and getting a head start on trying an NFL playbook,” Samuel said.

He again met with members of the organization this week, including new receivers coach Wes Welker. The 49ers hired Welker after the Senior Bowl, so Samuel was around him for the first time at the combine.

“He’s the guy who was doing the film, and as I’m about to walk out, I just took a double-take, ‘Oh, that’s Wes Welker,’ ” Samuel said. “I just realized that’s their receivers coach.”

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The thing Samuel remembers most about Welker, a five-time Pro Bowl selection, was the way he would run his option routes from the slot.

“He was unguardable,” Samuel said.

Now, the 49ers are looking for a wide receiver with that kind of ability to join the 53-man roster, not just the coaching staff.

NFL rumors: League seeks to add seventh playoff team in each conference

NFL rumors: League seeks to add seventh playoff team in each conference

The NFL’s playoff structure is expected to change to reportedly include seven teams in both conferences to advance to the postseason.

The current proposal, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, would add one playoff team in each conference and only the top seed in the AFC and NFC would be rewarded with byes in the first round of the playoffs.

The changes to the playoff format would take effect this season when the new collective bargaining agreement is ratified. ESPN reports there is “mounting optimism” the new CBA will be agreed upon within the week.

Through last season, the top six teams in both conferences made the playoffs. If the playoff proposal had been in effect last season, the Los Angeles Rams and Pittsburgh Steelers would have advanced to the playoffs as the Nos. 7 seeds.

As the No. 1 seed in the NFC, the 49ers would have still earned a first-round bye in the playoffs. But the Green Bay Packers, the No. 2 seed, would have played in the extra game against the Rams. If the Rams were to have upset the Packers in the wild-card round, the 49ers would have played Los Angeles in the NFC Divisional Playoff instead of the Minnesota Vikings.

But the new proposal would have had an even more major impact in the AFC, where the Kansas City Chiefs would have been forced to win three games in the playoffs just to advance to the Super Bowl.

"That's been agreed to for a long time," one source familiar with the CBA talks told ESPN about the NFL's new playoff structure. "There wasn't a lot of disagreement to that issue."

[RELATED49ers roster analysis: More receiver depth needed around Deebo Samuel]

Players on the top team in each conference will receive postseason pay for the bye weekend, unlike years past, according to the report.

Also, ESPN reported that the sides are also trying to work through a proposal for a 17-game regular season, while the exhibition season is shortened to three games. The earliest that change could occur would be the 2021 season, according to the report.

Deebo Samuel pleas for 49ers to re-sign Emmanuel Sanders in free agency

Deebo Samuel pleas for 49ers to re-sign Emmanuel Sanders in free agency

Before the 49ers officially had lost Super Bowl LIV to the Kansas City Chiefs, tight end George Kittle was already preaching they would be back next year.

But it didn't stop with him.

49ers players throughout the roster already are thinking of everything they can do to make another run at it, and that includes bringing back free-agent receiver Emmanuel Sanders.

Fellow wideout Deebo Samuel made it clear Wednesday on Twitter that he wants to see the 49ers bring back the 32-year-old veteran.

Sanders showed his appreciation later Wednesday morning.

After coming over from the Denver Broncos via trade in October, Sanders excelled with the 49ers. He caught 36 passes for 502 yards and three touchdowns in the regular season, and added five receptions for 71 yards in the postseason.

But Sanders could have been an even more critical part of 49ers lore, had it not been for Jimmy Garoppolo's overthrown pass with less than two minutes remaining in Super Bowl LIV. But it was not meant to be.

Sanders has been open about his love for the team that had just barely missed the championship and has spoken out about those second-guessing him due to his age. 

The receiver laughed at the fact that he has been "flying past 23-year-olds," and exhorted that he still has plenty of good years left in him.

[RELATED: Sanders offers advice to teammates playing in first Super Bowl]

He also embraced the youth the other wide receivers brought to the team, such as Samuel and Kendrick Bourne. Sanders loved the loose vibes of the 49ers' locker room and assisted the younger players in prepping for the big moments of the Super Bowl. 

Deebo surely noticed that and knows he wants his teammate back for the team's quest to make another Super Bowl run next season.