Emmanuel Sanders is not coming back to the 49ers in 2020, but the young receivers who spent time with him will continue to benefit from the experience.
Kendrick Bourne, whom the 49ers last week tendered at a second-round level as a restricted free agent, said Sanders provided him with the template for how to achieve longevity as a productive NFL wide receiver for a decade or more.
“He’s a living testament to what we want to be,” Bourne said of Sanders during a video interview with NBC Sports Bay Area from his parents’ home in Portland, Oregon.
“Everything he does, how he acts off the field, you know it’s the proper way to do it because he’s been doing it for 11 years now. So there’s no doubt that it works.”
The 49ers acquired Sanders in a midseason trade with the Denver Broncos. In 10 regular-season games with the 49ers, Sanders caught 36 passes for 502 yards and three touchdowns. In 10 NFL seasons, Sanders has 601 catches for 7,893 yards and 42 touchdowns.
Sanders agreed to a two-year contract with the New Orleans Saints, the club announced Sunday.
Bourne, Deebo Samuel, Richie James and Dante Pettis were in the receiver room with Sanders every day for more than three months. The 49ers appear prepared to turn it over the duties to the returning young players, as well as a likely high draft pick.
“He was always trying to teach us, me, Deebo and Dante and us, ‘Do this,' " Bourne said. “ ‘This is the better way,’ rather than keeping it to himself.
“He’s benefiting all of us being in the room because he’s vocal. He’s a real leader, a physical leader. He does what he’s supposed to do in all aspects. That’s how you know why he’s played this long, and why he will play another three more years.”
Sanders’ route-running and concentration are at the top of the league. He was targeted 104 times last seaon with Denver and the 49ers, and he caught 71 passes with just one drop, according to Pro Football Focus.
As Bourne continues to train at a facility near his parents’ home while adhering to the social distancing guidelines to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, he is focused on improving his conditioning so that he does not require as much time on the sideline as in the past.
Bourne said he was amazed to see Sanders, who is more than 8 years older than Bourne, push through fatigue during games and rarely come off the field.
"The biggest thing with Emmanuel for me was just his conditioning and how long he can stay in the game," Bourne said. "It was really impressive to me because I know if I'm in for like four plays, I'll be like huffing and puffing a little bit.
“Emmanuel didn’t have a governor. He could be out there seven plays in a row. I’ve been focusing this offseason to where when I hit that wall, but I still got two more plays left in me.”