49ers

Packers' Aaron Rodgers used to dream of helping 49ers win a Super Bowl

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AP

Packers' Aaron Rodgers used to dream of helping 49ers win a Super Bowl

Aaron Rodgers is a Northern California kid. The Chico native played at Butte College and Cal before starting an illustrious NFL career with the Green Bay Packers, so he’ll enjoy some hometown support during Sunday’s NFC Championship Game against the 49ers at Levi’s Stadium.

Beating the 49ers would vault Rodgers into his second Super Bowl appearance, an ideal scenario after a few years left outside the playoff picture.

Even still, this isn’t how he originally dreamed it up. As a kid living in 49ers country with grand aspirations, Rodgers thought he’d be helping his home team.

“I usually dreamed about playing for the 49ers as a kid,” Rodgers said in his Wednesday press conference. “Obviously, that thing passed a long time ago. But I do remember some great games over the years between the 49ers and the Packers, including [one] in this situation.”

The Packers and 49ers have quite a playoff history. There’s only one NFC Championship Game in their postseason series, a seven-game set all played since 1996. The 49ers are 3-4 in those playoff meetings, but have beaten Rodgers both times they’ve met in the postseason, including the 2013 encounter at Candlestick Park not too far from Rodgers' hometown.

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His last time playing in North California didn’t go so well. The 49ers smashed Green Bay 37-8 back in Week 12, after which Rodgers told 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo they’d meet again. Rodgers learned a lot about the 49ers then and is looking forward to the rematch.

“You realize, playing against them, how good they are,” Rodgers said. “At the time, they had a two-game lead plus the tiebreaker. Just calculating things in my head, I figured that if we made a run, we’d probably have to beat them at their place at some point. And, sure enough, we’re back there, needing a win to get to the Super Bowl.”

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers playoff coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (6 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; 8 p.m. Wednesday and Friday)

Also tune in at 2:30 p.m. Sunday for “49ers Pregame Live,” with Laura Britt, Jeff Garcia, Donte Whitner, Ian Williams and Grant Liffmann previewing the NFC Championship Game against the Packers. That same crew will have all the postgame reaction on “49ers Postgame Live,” starting at approximately 6:30 p.m.

49ers' need perfectly timed with loaded 2020 NFL Draft receiver class

49ers' need perfectly timed with loaded 2020 NFL Draft receiver class

Timing is everything.

The 49ers were arguably the most well-rounded team in the NFL last season on their way to finishing runner-up to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV. San Francisco had the best defense in the conference, and the second-most productive rushing offense in the league. Jimmy Garoppolo finished 22 passing yards short of 4,000, and only five other teams finished the regular season with more takeaways than the reigning NFC champions.

When looking up and down the 49ers' 2019 roster, they were strong across the board. There weren't any holes, and certain areas were tremendous strengths. However, it goes without saying that some of San Francisco's position groups are stronger than others. While the defensive line is arguably the best of its kind, the wide receiver group, for instance, isn't nearly as dominant or impressive.

Deebo Samuel had an exceptional rookie season, and Kendrick Bourne emerged as a consistent contributor. But if the position group was strong enough entering the season, the 49ers wouldn't have had reason to make a midseason trade for Emmanuel Sanders. The 10-year veteran hit the ground running as soon as he joined San Francisco and immediately became one of Garoppolo's go-to targets. However, Sanders, 31, is an unrestricted free agent, and while Samuel would like for his mentor to return, there is no guarantee that he will.

Whether or not the 49ers re-sign Sanders, they couldn't have asked for a better draft to beef up their receiving corps than the one upcoming in April. The 2020 NFL Draft is absolutely loaded at wide receiver, with NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah going so far as to call the draft class the "deepest" he has ever seen.

In addition to giving 27 receiver prospects a top-three-round grade, Jeremiah also has nine receivers ranked among his top 50 prospects overall. The cream of the crop includes Alabama's Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs, Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb, LSU's Justin Jefferson, Clemson's Tee Higgins and Colorado's Laviska Shenault, among others. Depending on what happens with Sanders, it's certainly possible one of those top prospects gets selected by San Francisco.

As things currently stand, after picking No. 31 overall in the first round, the 49ers won't be on the clock again until the fifth round, partly the result of sending their own third- and fourth-round draft picks to the Denver Broncos in the trade for Sanders. While San Francisco's receiving corps could use a boost, the team has additional needs that would make it difficult to rationalize using a first-round draft pick on a pass-catcher, especially if Sanders is re-signed. 

[RELATED: Why 49ers could look to add Gabriel to wide receiver mix]

As such, a more plausible scenario is the 49ers trading back out of the first round to acquire more draft picks. With those additional selections, they would still stand a great chance of having a great receiver prospect fall to them, as there inevitably will be a greater supply of standouts than the demand. While every team in the league would love to get their hands on a big-time playmaker, almost all of them have far more pressing and numerous needs than San Francisco does, and each team only has so many picks.

If Sanders is re-signed, the 49ers' need for improvement in the receiving corps will be severely diminished. But, given his age, one could argue San Francisco needs to draft at least one more receiver this coming April -- and if Sanders isn't re-signed -- probably more than one.

Lucky for the 49ers, the timing should work out quite well.

Why 49ers could be interested in adding Taylor Gabriel to receiver mix

Why 49ers could be interested in adding Taylor Gabriel to receiver mix

When the 49ers signed wide receiver Marquise Goodwin on the first day of free agency in 2017, coach Kyle Shanahan envisioned using him in a role similar to what he designed previously for Taylor Gabriel.

Now, Goodwin’s time with the 49ers appears to be coming to an end at the same time that Gabriel is set to become available. The Bears on Friday released Gabriel.

Gabriel was scheduled to make $5.5 million this season with the Chicago Bears for the 2020 season. Goodwin is on the books to cost the 49ers $4.5 million this year and is expected to be released in a cost-cutting move.

The 49ers could look to replace Goodwin with Gabriel, who has a valuation of $1.864 million, according to OverTheCap.com. But the move would have to be a low-risk deal, as Gabriel missed the final five games of last season after sustaining his second concussion of the season.

[RELATEDMore receiver depth needed around Deebo Samuel]

Gabriel, 29, played in nine games for the Bears last season. He caught 29 passes for 353 yards and four touchdowns. If the 49ers have interest in Gabriel, it would be to add him to the roster to compete for a spot as a part-time player to stretch the field.

Gabriel had the two highest yards-per-reception averages of his career with Shanahan calling the plays. In 2014 with the Cleveland Browns, Gabriel caught 36 passes for 621 yards (17.3-yard average). And in 2016, he caught 35 passes for 579 yards (16.5 average).