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NFL Draft 2020: Five wide receivers 49ers should watch during combine

NFL Draft 2020: Five wide receivers 49ers should watch during combine

The 49ers find themselves at a much different place around this time than one year ago. General manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan came to the NFL Scouting Combine with the No. 2 pick in the draft and plenty of glaring holes last year. 

After going from 4-12 to having a double-digit lead in the Super Bowl one season later, the 49ers arrived at this year's combine coming off heartbreak but with plenty of reasons for optimism. They're a team without many needs, though there still are question marks that need answers. 

Lynch reiterated Tuesday how much he believes in quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. But getting the QB more weapons on the outside must happen for this team to take another step forward and continue to be a contender. Despite having a low first-round pick at No. 31 overall, this is the perfect year for San Francisco to target a receiver in the draft. 

[RELATED: Updated NFL mock draft before combine]

This year's draft class is stacked with stud receivers. Playmakers can be picked out of a hat. With that being said, here are five receivers the 49ers should watch during the combine.

Once the 49ers make their first-round selection, they currently don't own a pick again until the fifth round. Each player below could be an option with their first-round pick or if they trade back. 

Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State 

It's time to steal a dad joke. Aiyuk is the king of YAC (yards after catch), so he's now officially Brandon AiYAC. Hold your applause. 

On a more serious note, Aiyuk averaged a ridiculous 18.3 yards per reception as a senior at Arizona State. He caught 65 passes for 1,1192 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. And he can absolutely fly. 

Aiyuk measured in at just under 6-feet but has an eye-opening 80-inch wingspan. That's a freaky build that can translate to a wild catch radius. While he's a former junior college player and needs some polish, Aiyuk would terrify teams in Shanahan's offense. 

Justin Jefferson, LSU

Jefferson dominated in the Tigers' historic offense as a junior. He hauled in an NCAA Division I-best 111 passes for 1,540 passes and 18 touchdowns. Jefferson also already has talked with the 49ers

On Tuesday, Jefferson said he and the 49ers had an "informal meeting." Jefferson can line up inside or outside, but he really broke out last season when LSU began using him out of the slot. 

Speaking of catch radius, Jefferson's is at the top of the class. Throw it up and he'll go get it. That's what makes him really intriguing. He can make plays in the open field out of the slot like the clip above, and he can snatch a TD at its highest point.

Laviska Shenault Jr., Colorado 

Shanahan would have tons of fun with Shenault in his offense. At 6-1 and 227 pounds, the former Colorado Buffalo is a physical freak. A strong combine could really have him rise up the rankings. 

Between his sophomore and junior seasons, Shenault scored 17 touchdowns -- 10 receiving and seven rushing. He's versatile and can be used all over the field, whether on the outside, inside or even out of the backfield. 

Shenault's red flag is an injury history to his labrum, toe and groin. If he's healthy, though, the athleticism is too good to ignore.

Jalen Reagor, TCU 

Reagor also met with the 49ers on Tuesday and compared himself to Deebo Samuel. For good reason, too.

Coming in at 5-11 and 206 pounds, Reagor is built similarly to Samuel. He also has the joystick capabilities and versatility of Samuel. Reagor scored 24 total touchdowns -- 22 receiving, two rushing -- at TCU and averaged 21 yards per punt return as a junior. 

Oh, and he's fast. Really, really fast. 

Reagor could be a healthy Percy Harvin. Do his ball skills translate to his athleticism? That's the big question. 

Michael Pittman Jr., USC

Pittman is quite different than many of the previously mentioned receivers. He isn't a burner and likely won't have a great 40-yard dash time. As far as polish and football IQ go, not many are in the same boat as Pittman. 

Though the 49ers hope to get a healthy Jalen Hurd next season, the 49ers still need a big-body receiver. Pittman is 6-4, 223 and catches everything thrown his way. 

Bet on Pittman. He was highly productive at USC while dealing with multiple QBs. Pittman also was one of the biggest standouts at the Senior Bowl.

Should the 49ers trade back out of the first round, this could be their guy.

How Patriots trading Jimmy Garoppolo earlier would've affected 49ers

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How Patriots trading Jimmy Garoppolo earlier would've affected 49ers

The New England Patriots' ideal Tom Brady successor is the franchise quarterback for Brady's childhood team.

The Patriots dealt Jimmy Garoppolo to the 49ers for a second-round draft pick in 2017, to coach Bill Belichick's reported chagrin. He envisioned Garoppolo leading the Patriots into another decade of dominance, but owner Robert Kraft ordered Belichick to trade Garoppolo and keep Brady, ESPN's Seth Wickersham reported in 2018.

Neither Brady nor Garoppolo will be in New England when the 2020 season starts, as the former signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (that's still weird to type and say out loud) as a free agent last month. The Patriots' QB depth chart currently consists of Jarrett Stidham and former 49er Brian Hoyer, which doesn't exactly inspire dynasty-building confidence.

That left NBC Sports Boston's Phil Perry to wonder if the Patriots would've been better off trading Garoppolo sooner, when then-Cleveland Browns coach Hue Jackson stopped just shy of holding a neon sign over his head indicating he would trade the No. 12 pick before that year's draft for Garoppolo.

"On its face, making that move made sense for both sides," Perry wrote Friday. "The Browns were desperate for a competent quarterback. They were flush with picks. The Patriots, meanwhile, didn't have a first or a second-rounder that spring. For them, trading Garoppolo with a year left on his contract represented an opportunity to bolster their 2017 rookie haul with a top-15 talent."

The ripple effects, as Perry noted would've been far-reaching.

Jackson would've had his quarterback of the future, and thus the Browns might not have drafted Baker Mayfield No. 1 overall -- or even had the pick -- in 2018. The 49ers, who Kyle Shanahan admitted were focused enough on acquiring Kirk Cousins as a free agent in 2018 that they passed on Patrick Mahomes in the 2017 draft, then likely would've gone all-in on Cousins. The Patriots, then, could've drafted Deshaun Watson at No. 12 overall -- the same pick the Houston Texans used after acquiring it from the Browns -- as Brady's successor.

Thankfully for fans sick of New England winning titles, that didn't happen. It's also fair to wonder if any of the teams involved other than the Patriots actually were better off.

Acquiring Garoppolo could've saved Jackson's job in the short-term, but the Browns didn't become a team who failed to meet lofty expectations until after Jackson's firing. The 49ers, had they signed Cousins to the same contract he signed with the Vikings in 2018, would've had more flexibility in the first season but less in the second when compared to Garoppolo's extension. Neither Cousins nor Garoppolo is a clear upgrade over the other, and it's not like you can guarantee Cousins wouldn't have torn his ACL in 2018, either.

[RELATED: Kittle's 49ers rise didn't shock fellow Iowa star Hanks at all]

The Patriots can (and surely will) kick themselves all they want for not maximizing Garoppolo's trade return, but the Browns might not view a hypothetical Garoppolo deal with the same regret since that still would've meant not picking Watson.

The 49ers, assuming they still signed Cousins, surely would've been happy either way.

George Kittle's 49ers rise didn't shock fellow Iowa star Merton Hanks

George Kittle's 49ers rise didn't shock fellow Iowa star Merton Hanks

Tight end George Kittle already is the 49ers’ best fifth-round draft pick since 1991.

Kittle has picked up two Pro Bowl selections and a First-Team All-Pro award in his first three NFL seasons. The 49ers have not experienced that kind of success from a player in the fifth round since the selection of defensive back Merton Hanks, a four-time Pro Bowl player and starter on the 49ers’ Super Bowl champion team in the 1994 season.

Kittle, like Hanks, played college ball at Iowa.

“I think that’s a great symmetry,” Hanks said this week on The 49ers Insider Podcast.

“The 49ers do pretty well with fifth-round draft picks from the University of Iowa. We tend to knock it out of the park a little bit there.”

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Hanks, who now works as senior associate commissioner of Conference USA, described himself as a first-round talent who fell in the draft due to a bad performance at the NFL Scouting Combine. He apparently scared teams with his reported time of 4.77 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

Kittle had an impressive combine. He had all the measurables, but he did not post great numbers as a pass-catcher during his four-year college career. In 25 games over four seasons, Kittle caught just 48 passes for 737 yards and 10 touchdowns.

In his first 45 regular-season games with the 49ers, Kittle has 216 catches for 2,945 yards and 12 touchdowns.

“I can’t say I’m surprised at all,” said Hanks, who referred to Iowa as “Tight Ends U."

[RELATED: How ex-49er Merton Hanks channeled 'Sesame Street' in iconic dance]

Iowa produced two tight ends in the first round of the 2019 draft: T.J. Hockenson, chosen No. 8 overall by the Detroit Lions, and Noah Fant, whom the Denver Broncos picked at No. 20.

“Coach (Kirk) Ferentz had NFL ties," Hanks added. "He understands the NFL game and what tight ends have to do to be successful, not only on the collegiate level, but the NFL level.”