Emmanuel Sanders, 32, is the oldest of the bunch, joined by rookie Deebo Samuel, 23, Kendrick Bourne and Richie James, both 24. Wide receivers coach Wes Welker and offensive quality control coach Miles Austin, who played a combined 22 NFL seasons, believe that each player brings elements to the table that the entire group can benefit from, whether they're a veteran or rookie.
Samuel has made a lot of strides as a rookie, but he has been good at running through the catch since Day 1, setting an example for the 49ers' receiving corps.
“Deebo probably does it better than everybody,” Austin said Monday at Super Bowl Opening Night at Marlins Park. “A lot of times when you’re running to catch the ball, a lot of guys leave their feet to slow their eyes down and catch it. But if you can keep your feet and stay heavy on the ground through the catch, that’s [where you] can kind of create some separation on the run.
“Deebo does a good job of staying low and heavy to the ground, running through the ball catching it clean, and everyone kind of learns from each other."
Samuel picked up more yards after the catch (473) than any other 49ers wide receiver during the regular season. That was the 13th-most in the NFL and second overall on San Francisco, behind star tight end George Kittle (602).
Welker even said Samuel's ability to keep plays alive has rubbed off on Sanders.
“He’s always working on his craft. even this many years in," Welker said. "I think it’s something that we talk about a bit in attacking the ball and catching with your hands, and he’s always trying to evolve and always trying to get better, and I think he sees that as a part of his game that he wants to get better at. Something you see off to the side he’s always working on.”
Sanders is learning from his younger teammates as much as they're learning from him, according to Welker. The development goes both ways.
“E-man is a consummate pro,” Welker said. “He knows how to practice, he plays big in big games and just him bringing his [experience] into the locker room -- and essentially the receiver room -- just rubs off on everyone the right way. He’s a pro and a lot of guys obviously look up to him, and rightfully so. We’re lucky to have him.”
Sometimes honing in on the details can be tough on a rookie, especially in a system as complex as coach Kyle Shanahan’s. But Samuel has grown over the season, his productivity rising after Sanders' arrival in a midseason trade.
The rookie finished the regular season with 57 receptions (on 81 targets) for 802 yards and three receiving touchdowns, picking up 634 of those yards after Sanders joined the 49ers. Samuel also ran for 159 yards on 14 carries and scored three more touchdowns, typically off a jet sweep.
“He’s made of the right stuff,” Austin said of Samuel. “He brings the right energy to work every day. He handles criticism well. He always bounces back. Even if he might mess up, he handles it, he corrects it and he gets better the next time.”
The 49ers receivers have one more chance to learn from one another this season when San Francisco squares off against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday in Super Bowl LIV. No 49ers receiver has more than five receptions in the playoffs, with the team heavily relying on the running game.
But if the group is called into action against the Chiefs, Welker and Austin know that Samuel, Sanders and Co. are up to the challenge.