Editor's note: The 49ers season isn't over, but we'll keep one eye on the future with our weekly series on the team's biggest needs heading into 2019 and how voids can be filled best. Last week, we looked at edge rushers. This week's focus is on wide receivers.
The 49ers have struggled to find a No. 1 receiver since ... well, since Terrell Owens was shipped off to Philadelphia before the 2004 season, anyway.
Since that time, the 49ers have selected 20 wide receivers in the draft, including Rashaun Woods (2004), Michael Crabtree (2009) and A.J. Jenkins (2012) in the first round.
Only Crabtree produced a 1,000-yard season for the 49ers (2012). Woods and Jenkins combined for seven receptions for 160 yards and one touchdown in their 49ers careers.
Jenkins never caught a pass as a rookie in 2012, and he was traded away before he even got to the regular season in Year 2.
The 49ers got a couple of good seasons from Anquan Boldin in 2013 and ’14. But the 49ers again find themselves without a true No. 1 wide receiver who can strike fear into an opposing defense.
But maybe the 49ers already have their No. 1 target. After all, tight end George Kittle is likely to have more receiving yards this season than any 49ers player since Owens was catching passes from Jeff Garcia.
Still, the 49ers need more weapons on the outside.
Players likely to stay in 2019
Dante Pettis: The 49ers invested a second-pick in Pettis, so that shows how the 49ers valued him and that position after not finding a match with anyone in free agency. Pettis has played very well since getting healthy and taking over on a full-time basis. He also has versatility.
Pettis can play each of the 49ers’ three receiver positions. He has 19 catches for 363 yards. He has an impressive 19.1 yards per reception and a team-leading five touchdowns. It is debatable whether he can be a No. 1, but the semantics are irrelevant. The 49ers expect him to be a valued contributor for a while.
Marquise Goodwin: The 49ers never envisioned Goodwin being forced into such a prominent role when they signed him as a free agent on the first day of the 2017 league year. Goodwin had a career year, which earned him a contract extension.
This season, he has been plagued by injuries, inconsistencies and family issues that forced him to step away from the team for two games. The 49ers like Goodwin, but they believe his strength would be in a more specialized role.
So while the 49ers will look to bring in a receiver who is more of an every-down player, Goodwin still figures prominently as a weapon to keep fresh throughout games.
Player likely to go
Pierre Garçon: He got off to a great start with the 49ers, and despite issues at quarterback was well on his way to a 1,000-yard season in 2017. After a neck injury cut his season short, Garçon did not look like the same presence upon his return this season.
He had a quiet training camp, and never got going. He never had more than 60 receiving yards in any of the eight games in which he played. After being inactive for five of the past six weeks, he underwent a season-ending procedure on his knee this week.
The 49ers will look to get younger, faster and more cost-effiective.
49ers offseason plan
FREE AGENCY: This certainly is not the avenue teams want to go down in order to pick up a No. 1 receiver.
The cost of doing business for wide receivers on the free-agent market is crazy. Let’s take Donte Moncrief, for example. He did not produce in four seasons with the Indianapolis Colts. Over the previous two years, he averaged 10 ½ games, 28 receptions and 349 yards.
Although he received just a one-year contract, the Jacksonville Jaguars paid him $9.6 million. By his standards, he is having a very good season, with 42 receptions for 604 yards with three touchdowns. The Jaguars are getting everything they could have hoped from him. But is he a No. 1 receiver?
The top-producing wide receivers scheduled for unrestricted free agency are Golden Tate (Philadelphia) and John Brown (Baltimore). Tate, 31, and Brown, 29, have receiving totals of 718 and 706 yards, respectively. That does not appear to be what the 49ers want to add to the mix.
DRAFT: Potentially, this draft could set up well for the 49ers to get one of the better wide receivers.
There is no superstar. The first wide receiver probably will not be taken until the latter half of the first round. The 49ers will not select a wide receiver with their first selection. That most likely will be used on an edge rusher.
But when the 49ers’ second pick rolls around, there could be a handful of options who have size and potential, such as A.J. Brown (Ole Miss), J.J. Arcego-Whiteside (Stanford), D.K. Metcalf (Ole Miss), Kelvin Harmon (N.C. State) and N’Keal Harry (Arizona State).
BOTTOM LINE: The need for another wide receiver is apparent. Pettis, Goodwin and Kendrick Bourne will return on the outside. Trent Taylor and Richie James Jr. will return to compete for roles as the slot receiver.
The 49ers need to add another legitimate threat on the outside to create more conflicts for opposing defenses. They will certainly look to improve in free agency, but the addition of an impact player might have to wait until the draft.