49ers

49ers receivers being ranked last in NFC West overlooks key elements

49ers

Kyle Shanahan clearly has a strategy in mind, and it isn't always reflected in preseason rankings.

The 49ers coach wants to construct a versatile offense that has the ability to adjust on the fly depending on how the defense is aligned. That requires having several players who can effectively run, block and catch, which isn't the easiest combination to find. Despite that challenge, Shanahan has succeeded.

George Kittle is the best all-around tight end in football, and nobody else is close. He is a great receiver who's tremendously difficult to bring down, and his run blocking might be his best singular overall skill.

Deebo Samuel did plenty of everything during his excellent rookie season. He scored just as many touchdowns through the air (three) as he did on the ground during the regular season while catching 57 passes and accumulating 961 total yards from scrimmage. In Super Bowl LIV, he led the 49ers with five receptions and finished five rushing yards shy of Raheem Mostert's 58 for the team lead.

Like Kittle, he's a tackle-breaking machine.

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Jalen Hurd is a former running back and a potential matchup nightmare. He scored two touchdowns in the only game he appeared in -- granted, it was the preseason. Kyle Juszczyk led all NFL fullbacks with 20 receptions, and graded out as far and away the top player at his position according to Pro Football Focus. 

 

Using the same grading system -- which factors in rushing, receiving, pass blocking and run blocking -- both Mostert (sixth) and Tevin Coleman (24th) ranked within the top half of all running backs who were on the field for at least 270 snaps last season. Jeff Wilson scored five touchdowns on 30 total touches, and the last time Jerick McKinnon was healthy, he caught 51 passes out of the backfield.

And that doesn't even mention the most recent draft class, in which the 49ers added the likes of Brandon Aiyuk, Charlie Woerner and Jauan Jennings. All three of them offer potentially dynamic and diverse skill sets.

The point is Shanahan has a vision, and he has built his offense accordingly. He wants to make each position potentially far more dangerous from a defensive perspective than it might appear on paper.

That's why PFF ranking San Francisco's wide-receiver corps as only the 25th best in the NFL and worst in the NFC West is not worth getting hot and bothered over. Based purely on receiver personnel, that ranking -- specifically relative to the rest of the division -- arguably isn't off base.

The Arizona Cardinals ranked first among all NFC West teams in the rankings, coming in at No. 8 overall. They stole DeAndre Hopkins from the Houston Texans earlier in the offseason, and he now will be paired with Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk and Andy Isabella. The No. 8 spot is precisely where they belong relative to the rest of the division and, frankly, they should probably be ranked higher overall.

The rival Seattle Seahawks' receivers were ranked No. 14 overall, a ranking based largely on their top two receivers (Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf). David Moore and free-agent addition Philip Dorsett figure to compete to be the No. 3 receiver. While they both are solid, you could make the argument all three other NFC West teams have better players in that role.

Then there's the Los Angeles Rams, whose receivers came in at No. 17 overall in the rankings. Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp rival Arizona's top two receivers for the best combo in the division when healthy. The Rams traded Brandin Cooks to the Texans, leaving second-round draft pick Van Jefferson and veteran Josh Reynolds to compete for the No. 3 role. If they're all available -- which is no guarantee -- Los Angeles arguably has the second-best collection of receivers in the NFC West.

 

There are essentially two main reasons why the 49ers' receiving corps is ranked where it is. Samuel's broken foot, combined with the departure of Emmanuel Sanders to the New Orleans Saints in free agency, could leave San Francisco without a true No. 1 option to start the season. That said, Samuel has insisted he'll be back in time for Week 1, and if he is, you can cross that concern off the list.

The other main reason is the unknown. Samuel is a known quantity, but beyond him, there's plenty of potential and not much of a track record. Aiyuk fits Shanahan's offense to a T, but he has yet to take a snap in the NFL. Kendrick Bourne took a step forward last season but has been inconsistent. Hurd could be the best of them all, but he has never played in a regular-season game.

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One could argue the 49ers' receiving corps has as high of a ceiling as any other team in the division, but until they prove it on the field, they will be overlooked.

That ultimately is of no concern to Shanahan. The 49ers have one of the best and most well-rounded offenses in the league, and there's a reason why he has hand-picked the receivers he has.

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