SANTA CLARA – Marquise Goodwin draws inspiration from a man who struggled with drops as a rookie, then became the greatest wide receiver in football history.
“Drops happen,” Goodwin said. “The greatest to ever play the game, they were hating on him when he first got here in the league. He dropped the ball too much. It happens.”
That’s the story of Jerry Rice, whom Goodwin has gotten to know since coming to the 49ers as a free agent in 2017.
Rice, a first-round draft pick in 1985 from Mississippi Valley State, was plagued by drops early in his career before going on a streak of 11 consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons. Rice was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010. Goodwin was born in 1990.
“I’ve spent time with him, talking with him,” Goodwin said. “I probably have every sports card that he has in his career. I have a whole booklet. I’ve followed him very closely in his career, even though I was young.”
Goodwin enjoyed the most production of his career in his first season with the 49ers, catching 56 passes for 962 yards. He struggled with injuries last season, and his numbers dropped to 23 receptions for 395 yards in 11 games with eight starts.
This season, Goodwin missed a game due to personal reasons, then was inactive two weeks ago against the Arizona Cardinals. On Monday, he did not haul in a catchable pass early against the Seattle Seahawks, then ended up playing just 10 of the 49ers’ 83 offensive snaps.
“He had an injury in the game,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan explained. “His arm was cramping up, he had a finger issue, so he was out for a few series. Then, the way things were going in the game, we just didn’t rotate him back in much.”
Goodwin is one of the elite speedsters in the league, but other than a 38-yard touchdown catch in Week 2 at Cincinnati, he has not gotten deep. He has just 11 receptions for 181 yards on the season.
Goodwin said he is more focused on catching the ball at any route depth rather than putting an emphasis on getting deep.
“Just looking to help the team in any way I can,” he said. “Just got to worry about making the ones that aren’t deep. But I look forward to anything. I’m glad to be alive and moving forward, and we got a game this week.”
The 49ers found a way to use his speed on Monday night, as he lined up behind Mitch Wishnowsky in punt coverage. The play was timed so that Goodwin would reach full speed and not be too far beyond the line of scrimmage before the punt, which would be a penalty of ineligible man downfield.
Goodwin reached a top speed of 22.6 mph, according to Sportsradar. Goodwin was in perfect position to defend the return, but teammate Raheem Mostert got there early and was penalized for kick catch interference.
“I’m a football player at the end of the day,” Goodwin said. “We’re all capable of doing all types of things. I’ve had a little experience at punt coverage. My main job right then was to try to force him to fair catch or knock his head off – one of the two.”
Goodwin lined up once in the same formation last year against the Chicago Bears and forced a fair catch against Tarik Cohen.
“It’s a way to get him down the field,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “It’s very hard to bump a guy in that situation, so if you punt it up high you can almost guarantee a fair catch.”