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49ers must find starting wide receiver in free agency or 2019 NFL Draft

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USATSI

49ers must find starting wide receiver in free agency or 2019 NFL Draft

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.

Seriously.

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.

[RELATED: Two receivers limited one day after practicing]

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.

[RELATED: Five 2019 NFL Draft prospects who could help 49ers win next season]

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.

Check out the 49ers' fresh official 2020 NFL Draft hats from New Era

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USATSI

Check out the 49ers' fresh official 2020 NFL Draft hats from New Era

The NFL Draft is still scheduled to take place from April 23, through April 25, but it will look a bit different than what we’re used to.

Las Vegas will still host the draft, but without the usual pomp and circumstance events leading up to, and around it, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

While we don’t know how it’ll ultimately look as we have nothing previous to compare it to, we do know the hats the draftees will sport after their name is called.

New Era dropped the Official NFL Draft Hats with each cap sporting the logo on all black with their taglines stitched on the sides. 

Here are what the 49ers hats look like:

[RELATED: Why NFL should award Raiders NFL Draft in 2022]

New Era also offers alternates with bigger logos.

At least one thing will remain familiar despite a lot of changes.

Emmanuel Sanders was down to 49ers, Saints, Packers in NFL free agency

Emmanuel Sanders was down to 49ers, Saints, Packers in NFL free agency

Emmanuel Sanders is a man of his word. He said he would prioritize an opportunity to contend for a Super Bowl when deciding which team he was going to sign with in free agency, and given the finalists for his services, that's precisely what he did.

Sanders joined "The Rich Eisen Show" on Monday and explained that his decision ultimately came down to the NFC's top three seeds from last season.

"I was talking to Green Bay, I was talking to the Niners and just trying to figure out what type of deal, what type of money are we talking about," Sanders explained. "And then the Saints called, and I was ecstatic about them calling. The opportunity to play with Drew Brees and everything. The numbers made sense -- Drew has two more years left on his deal, and I signed a two-year deal."

As you might recall, the 49ers and Packers earned the Nos. 1 and 2 overall seeds in the NFC last season -- and a first-round bye -- while the Saints finished as the No. 3 seed. New Orleans' season ended in the wild-card round, whereas San Francisco defeated Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game to advance to Super Bowl LIV.

While the 49ers and Saints didn't face each other in the playoffs, they did combine for a thrilling regular-season shootout in Week 14 -- a 48-46 San Francisco road win in which Sanders played a huge role, catching seven passes for 157 receiving yards and a touchdown. The next time he returns to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, it won't be as a visiting player.

"I'm just excited to be a New Orleans Saint," Sanders continued. "I looked at the schedule -- we've got 11 or 12 games inside in a dome. Michael Thomas being my counterpart, Drew Brees throwing the ball, Sean Payton calling the plays -- a wide-open spread offense just like I was with Peyton [Manning] in 2014 -- it just set a new fire under me."

[RELATED: NFL will expand playoffs to seven teams beginning in 2020]

Though Sanders didn't elaborate on those indoor games, he was correct in that the Saints will play 11 regular-season games in a dome next season. In addition to road games against the Atlanta Falcons, Las Vegas Raiders and Detroit Lions, they of course have their eight home games -- one of which might be circled as soon as the official schedule is released.

That one?

Against the 49ers.