Editor's note: NBC Sports Bay Area will preview the NFL Draft with a look at the 49ers’ top needs, profiles of prospects that might be good fits, along with some hidden gems in the later rounds. In this installment, we examine why the 49ers have a need at wide receiver.
The class of wide receivers is strong at the top with more than a handful of expected first-round draft picks.
But what might separate the 2020 NFL Draft from other years is there could be a strong receiver available for nearly every team that wants one through the middle rounds, too.
“It’s a really good class,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said at the NFL Scouting Combine in February. “You can kind of get whatever flavor you like.
“If you like smaller, quicker guys, those guys are there. If you like the big guys that can move, those guys are there. If you like speed, that's there. If you like separators. ... So, I think the whole league's kind of smiling about that.”
The 49ers need more contributing pass-catchers than last season, when coach Kyle Shanahan had trust in only three wide receivers toward the end of the season.
In the Super Bowl, 49ers wide receivers were on the field for a combined 140 snaps. Veteran Emmanuel Sanders, a mid-season pickup in a trade with the Denver Broncos, played 55 of the 49ers’ 58 offensive plays. Deebo Samuel was on the field for 51 offensive plays, followed by Kendrick Bourne (28) and Richie James (6).
Sanders signed with the New Orleans Saints as a free agent, which leaves the 49ers with a major hole to fill on offense.
The 49ers signed slot receiver Travis Benjamin to a one-year contract as a free agent. The club anticipates the returns of Trent Taylor and Jalen Hurd after both missed the entire season with injuries.
It will take a combination of players to compensate for what Sanders brought to the club throughout the second half of the season.
The 49ers own the Nos. 13 and 31 picks in the draft. And they could use that first selection on a wide receivers. The top options are Jerry Jeudy (Alabama), CeeDee Lamb (Oklahoma) and Henry Ruggs (Alabama).
If the 49ers trade back from No. 13 or use their second first-rounder to select a wideout, Justin Jefferson (LSU), Tee Higgins (Clemson), Laviska Shenault Jr. (Colorado), Brandon Aiyuk (Arizona State) and Denzel Mims (Baylor) are among the possibilities.
Do the 49ers need to come out of this draft with a No. 1 wideout? Maybe not. Tight end George Kittle is the team’s No. 1 target, and Samuel is to be a good fit for the offense. Bourne proved to be reliable and could take on more responsibility, too.
The 49ers, however, can benefit from a player who can stress a defense, whether he’s a deep threat on the outside, a red-zone target or a reliable player working the middle of the field to give Jimmy Garoppolo another option on third downs.
This draft has plenty of options for whatever it is the 49ers desire.