49ers

Jordan Matthews may be the answer to 49ers' red zone problems

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USATSI

Jordan Matthews may be the answer to 49ers' red zone problems

Newly-signed wide receiver Jordan Matthews could be the red-zone threat that the 49ers have desperately needed.

In 2018, the 49ers were worst in the NFL in red zone efficiency in terms of scoring touchdowns. They only managed to hit pay dirt from inside the 20-yard line 41.18 percent of the time. For perspective, the Steelers topped the list, scoring a touchdown 73.47 percent of their trips in the red zone. 

The 49ers weren’t much better in 2017. They scored a touchdown 47.06 percent of the times they visited the red zone which ranked them 27th in the league. 

Matthews might just be the answer to the 49ers' problem. Of his 22 career touchdowns, 16 have been from the red zone. What is noticeable when looking all of his scoring plays is how easy he makes it look.

One argument for Matthews’ red zone production could be scheme, but he’s been productive in both Chip Kelly and Doug Pederson’s offenses. Matthews is also an equal opportunity receiver, as he has caught touchdown passes from Carson Wentz, Nick Foles, Tyrod Taylor, Sam Bradford, and Mark Sanchez. 

Obviously credit needs to be given the above listed quarterbacks for making the throws, but Matthews has some traits that make him effective in a shortened field. 

He gets open

When Matthews runs a route, he knows how to position himself so he stays in front of the defender. While sometimes it involves a little boxing out and contact, most of the time it’s as simple as out-maneuvering his body so he is an open target. 

Example: Week 13, 2018
Philadelphia vs. Washington

Matthews runs a simple dig route along the goal line and keeps himself between the defender and the quarterback. Wentz throws a quick four-yard pass on what looks like his first read for an easy touchdown.  

He’s fast enough to beat a defender

Matthews has the ability to use his body, but also has enough speed to flat out get open. Matthews ran a 4.46 40-yard dash and being 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, it’s likely that opponents forget about his speed. 

Example: Week 4, 2017
Buffalo vs. Atlanta 

Midway through the second quarter Matthews runs a nine-yard slant from the right to the left. He gets so far in front of the defender that Taylor has an easy throw for the touchdown. 

He can grab a jump ball

Matthews is a big bodied receiver, more so than anyone else in the receivers room. His size alone will gives him an advantage in jump ball situations. 

Example: Week 3, 2014
Philadelphia vs. Washington

Just before the half ended, Matthews ran a go route to the back of the end zone. He was double covered but got up above the defenders enough to grab Foles' 11-yard pass for the touchdown.

[RELATED: Matthews a lifelong 49ers fan]

He is difficult for defensive backs to read and follow 

Example Week 2, 2015 
Philadelphia vs. Washington

Matthews runs an out route on the goal line with less than three minutes left in the game. Before he changes direction in front of the defender, he makes slight contact enough to delay their motion, allowing him to get in front for the completion and touchdown. 

Matthews ability to change direction quickly might be his most impressive and valuable quality. Many of his touchdowns were when he nearly ran straight into a defender before turning in his route. It doesn’t give the defensive back time to react before the ball is thrown his way.

Matthews has quite a few tricks in his repertoire and coach Kyle Shanahan will be taking advantage of each of them on the field.

NFL draft: Five players 49ers can target as Day 2 options on offense, defense

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AP

NFL draft: Five players 49ers can target as Day 2 options on offense, defense

The national TV audience will begin to evaporate and the names called will not be as familiar, but Friday will be every bit as important as Day 1 of the 2019 NFL Draft.

“Everybody talks about the first round, but this draft is all about the second, third and fourth rounds,” an NFL West Coast scout told NBC Sports Bay Area.

The depth of this year’s draft makes every team’s selections on Day 2 potentially just as important and impactful as those chosen in the first round.

The 49ers own four picks within the top 104 selections. General manager John Lynch is set to pick at No. 2. After that, the 49ers have scheduled selections at Nos. 36 (second round), 67 (third round) and 104 (fourth round).

Here are some options for the 49ers on Day 2 of the NFL draft:

WR Deebo Samuel, South Carolina

There is something about Samuel’s movements, patience and ability to separate quickly versus man coverage that would seem to be attractive for coach Kyle Shanahan. The 49ers struggled mightily in the red zone the past two seasons, and Samuel would give the team a boost in that area.

After the 49ers spent a week with him at the Senior Bowl, Samuel was provided a plane ticket to also meet with the 49ers in Santa Clara. New receivers coach Wes Welker had not joined the staff when the club was in Mobile, so Welker was able to spend some quality time with Samuel in the Bay Area.

The 49ers’ pick at No. 36 would be a logical spot at which to target Samuel.

WR Hakeem Butler, Iowa State

Butler is massive. He is 6-5, 227 pounds. He is a wide receiver. And the first reaction is that he looks like a formidable red zone target. But Shanahan has never liked the randomness and low-percentage nature of the fade route or jump ball near the end zone.

The question with Butler is much the same as the question with N’Keal Harry of Arizona State. Can he regularly and routinely find separation against bigger, faster, stronger, more-skilled NFL cornerbacks?

Butler should be among a group of wide receivers that fly off the board in rapid-fire succession on the second day of the draft.

S Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Florida

Different teams might view him in different ways. And for the 49ers, that kind of versatility is certainly not a bad thing.

He is 5-11, 210 pounds and ran a 4.48 at the NFL Scouting Combine. He had three sacks and nine tackles for loss last season, which points to his ability to play close to the line of scrimmage. He also led the Gators with four interceptions, so he could also be viewed as a single-high safety.

When the 49ers choose in the second round, there should be plenty of starter-caliber safeties from which to choose.

S Juan Thornhill, Virginia

Thornhill (6-0, 205) is another in the cluster of safeties who should be available at No. 36 but not when the 49ers select in the third round. It’s a group that includes Gardner-Johnson, Darnell Savage (Maryland), Nasir Adderley (Delaware) and Taylor Rapp (Washington).

The 49ers are coming off a season in which they set the NFL record for fewest interceptions in a season with two. Thornhill has experience at cornerback and showed those coverage skills when he moved to safety. He recorded 13 interceptions in his final three college seasons.

The 49ers might even be tempted to move him to cornerback, like they did a year ago with third-round draft pick Tarvarius Moore.

CB Lonnie Johnson, Kentucky

He might not be able to win a starting job immediately, but he should be a big special-teams performer from Day 1 and work into a significant role on defense. At 6-2, 213, Johnson is a good fit for the 49ers’ defensive scheme.

[RELATED: 49ers should find starters at edge rusher, wide receiver]

He is at his best re-routing receivers off the line of scrimmage. He should be able to handle the requirements of the 49ers’ preferred cover-three defense. In addition, he is an aggressive hitter who will be good in run support.

Is 36 too high for him? Perhaps, but he could be a target in Round 3.

Longtime 49ers scout Reggie Cobb dies from apparent heart attack at 50

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49ers.com

Longtime 49ers scout Reggie Cobb dies from apparent heart attack at 50

Longtime 49ers area scout Reggie Cobb died Saturday morning in the Bay Area from an apparent heart attack, the club announced. He was 50.

“We are devastated by the sudden loss of a tremendous teammate and loyal friend, Reggie Cobb,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said in a statement.

“Reggie was an enthusiastic and passionate person who had a special ability to brighten up a room with his personality and infectious smile. For 10 years, the 49ers were better because of Reggie and these unique qualities that he possessed.

“He was a top-notch scout and an exemplary man whose years of service to this organization and the National Football League will not be forgotten. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends in this time of mourning.”

Cobb played seven NFL seasons after entering the league as the No. 30 overall pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1990 from Tennessee.

In his career as a running back, he gained 3,743 yards and scored 25 touchdowns while playing four seasons with Tampa Bay and one apiece with Green Bay, Jacksonville and the New York Jets.

He transitioned into scouting, serving two years with Washington and six with Tampa Bay before coming to the 49ers. Cobb was entering his 11th year as an area scout with the 49ers. In 2011, he was named NFC Scout of the Year by the Fritz Pollard Alliance.

Cobb finished his college career ranked third on the University of Tennessee’s career rushing chart with 2,360 yards and 26 touchdowns. He was also a member of the school’s 100th anniversary team. He lettered in track and graduated with a degree in urban studies in 1990.

Cobb lived in Sugarland, Texas, with his son, DeMarcus, according to his 49ers bio.