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49ers seek more wide receiver depth behind Aiyuk, Samuel

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The 49ers drafted wide receivers the past two years who figure to line up as the team’s starters for at least the next two seasons.

But the 49ers have plenty of offseason work ahead to build more depth around starting wide receivers Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel.

Kendrick Bourne is scheduled to be a free agent. That means, as the roster currently stands, Richie James is the 49ers’ No. 3 receiver and the only other receiver who had more than 10 receptions in 2020.

In 40 games over three seasons, James has just 38 receptions for 689 yards and three touchdowns.

A huge portion of his production came in just one game when Aiyuk, Samuel and Kendrick Bourne were not available in Week 9 against the Green Bay Packers. James caught nine passes for 184 yards and a touchdown.

That shows James either lacks consistency or the opportunities that could have proved he has always been one of the team’s better receivers.

Trent Taylor began the season as the 49ers’ slot receiver before getting benched due to lack of production. He is scheduled for unrestricted free agency. The 49ers should prioritize an upgrade for the slot to find a shifty receiver who can get open quickly as a reliable third-down option.

The 49ers would like to re-sign Bourne. But after he earned $3.259 million last season, Bourne could be in line for a sizable pay bump that the 49ers might not be prepared to pay. Bourne posted career-bests in 2020 with 49 receptions for 667 yards. He started five of the 15 games in which he played.

 

Bourne, Jacksonville’s Keelan Cole and Cleveland’s Rashard Higgins are four-year NFL veterans of comparable age and production who should warrant similar contracts as unrestricted free agents.

It is doubtful the 49ers would be willing to pay any receiver on the open market what they are willing to pay to bring back Bourne.

With what figures to be another deep class of wideouts in the draft, the 49ers are likely to devote a draft pick to bolster the position. The 49ers are scheduled to have a compensatory pick at the end of Round 3, as well as one fourth-round selection and three more picks in the fifth round. 

Jalen Hurd, a third-round pick in 2019, has appeared in only one exhibition game in his two seasons with the 49ers. He spent his rookie season on injured reserve with a stress fracture in his back. Last summer, he sustained a torn ACL while conditioning on a side field on the first day of practice at training camp.

At this stage, any production Hurd supplies would have to be considered a bonus. At 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, the pre-injuries version of Hurd had the versatility to line up anywhere in the offensive formation.

Coach Kyle Shanahan envisioned deploying Hurd in no-huddle situations, when the defense is unable to substitute personnel, to maximize favorable matchups.

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Veteran speedster Travis Benjamin remains under contract to the team after opting out of last season due to COVID-19 concerns.

Jauan Jennings, a seventh-round pick last year, will also be back to make another run at a roster spot. Jennings sustained a hamstring injury while on the practice squad. Shanahan said Jennings would have played at some point last season if not for the injury.

River Cracraft and Kevin White spent time on the practice squad and received promotions to play in multiple games last season. Both are under contract to the team to compete for jobs.

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