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NFL Draft 2020: Do 49ers need to give Jimmy Garoppolo No. 1 wideout?

NFL Draft 2020: Do 49ers need to give Jimmy Garoppolo No. 1 wideout?

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.

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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.

Why Colin Cowherd would hire 49ers' Kyle Shanahan to coach his NFL team

Why Colin Cowherd would hire 49ers' Kyle Shanahan to coach his NFL team

There currently are 32 NFL franchises, and for the vast majority of us, at no point during our lives will we have any chance of owning one of them.

But, forget reality. What if you were able to purchase a team? Who would you hire as head coach?

Fox Sports' Colin Cowherd gave his answer to that question Wednesday, but first established the five criteria by which he would form his list of the top 10 coaches he'd want to lead his franchise. They were:

1. Age does not matter 
2. Easy to work with 
3. The less controversy, the better 
4. Innovative thinker 
5. Relates to players

Based on those criteria, Cowherd landed on 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan as his top choice (h/t 49ers Web Zone).

"I know he has had a couple of Super Bowl moments you don't love," Cowherd explained Wednesday on "The Herd," "but I think San Francisco was right. I think he's intense. I think he has got the lineage from his dad (Mike Shanahan). I think he has a system, but he is nimble enough to manipulate the system and listen to (general manager) John Lynch and others. I think he's obsessively driven, which is probably most of these guys.

"But if I start my franchise today, I get the (experience from his) dad, I get him, I get playoff experience, and I also think he has got a chip on his shoulder because he thinks he should have won that Super Bowl last year. And he thinks he should have won that Atlanta Super Bowl against New England when he was the [offensive coordinator]."

Though the 49ers don't have new owners, they clearly share similar feelings about Shanahan, having just recently signed him to a six-year contract extension. He led San Francisco to a nine-win improvement this past season, and already has made it clear the expectation is to get back to the Super Bowl for a second straight year.

[RELATED: Bryant Young knows 49ers in good hands with Shanahan, Lynch]

Should the 49ers accomplish that goal -- and prove victorious in Super Bowl LV -- what few criticisms there are of Shanahan no longer would be valid.

For reference, here is Cowherd's full list:

1. Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco 49ers
2. Sean McDermott, Buffalo Bills 
3. Doug Pederson, Philadelphia Eagles 
4. Sean McVay, Los Angeles Rams 
5. John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens 
6. Matt Nagy, Chicago Bears 
7. Brian Flores, Miami Dolphins 
8. Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma Sooners 
9. Urban Meyer, formerly Ohio State Buckeyes 
10. Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

NFL rumors: George Kittle's 49ers contract could land around $13M annually

NFL rumors: George Kittle's 49ers contract could land around $13M annually

The elephant in the room at this point of the 49ers' offseason is the absence of a contract extension for standout tight end George Kittle. He is entering the final year of his rookie deal which will pay him $2.1 million, and is due to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the upcoming season.

After cementing himself as the best tight end in all of football over the last two seasons, Kittle's inevitable extension has long been expected to reset the market at the position. Austin Hooper currently averages the highest annual salary of any tight end after signing a four-year, $42 million contract with the Cleveland Browns in free agency earlier this offseason.

Estimates for what Kittle could average on his next contract have ranged as high as $20 million per season, but the real number likely is somewhere between there and Hooper's annual rate due to the expected drop in league revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Athletic's Matt Barrows reported Wednesday that someone "in the know" told him that Kittle ultimately would get a contract extension averaging $13 million per season.

That's a far cry from $20 million, but as Barrows noted, it still would make Kittle the highest-paid tight end by a fairly wide margin. Though Kittle probably is worth more than that, the salary-cap uncertainty caused by COVID-19 likely will rule out the possibility of a market-shattering contract. The unprecedented situation could result in a creative deal.

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The Athletic's David Lombardi recently suggested that it might make sense for Kittle and the 49ers to come to an agreement on a contract that is partially tied to the size of the salary cap moving forward. 

"The 49ers can offer Kittle a guaranteed base annual salary or signing bonus before using a percentage-of-the-cap scale on top of that to pay him commensurate to cap increases in future years, when the NFL’s revenue outlook should be rosier," Lombardi wrote. "That's just an idea. But since this is uncharted territory, creative contract structures cannot be ruled out -- especially if they help break a potentially problematic impasse."

Creativity aside, if an agreement can't be reached on a contract extension, the 49ers would still have the ability to apply the franchise tag to Kittle -- which would pay him the average of the top five tight-end salaries -- for the 2021 and 2022 seasons. That option obviously wouldn't provide Kittle with the long-term security he likely desires, but there's ample motivation on both sides to get a deal done for San Francisco's most indispensable offensive player.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]