The streak is over after 18 years.
The 49ers did not draft a wide receiver in 2002, but the selections of Brandon Lloyd (fourth round) and Arnaz Battle (sixth round) in 2003 began a nearly two-decade-long stretch in which the 49ers picked at least one wide receiver in every draft.
The 49ers this offseason lost wide receiver Kendrick Bourne as a free agent to the New England Patriots.
The 49ers signed receiver Trent Sherfield, mostly for his play on special teams, and veteran Mohamed Sanu, whom the team cut after he caught just one pass in three games last season.
Despite a clear need at wide receiver, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said the 49ers did not feel the urgency to invest a high draft pick on another wide receiver. The 49ers selected four receivers within the first three rounds of the previous three drafts.
Now, about the team’s only hope for improvement could come in the veteran free-agent market.
“If we feel there’s a slot receiver or outside receiver who can make our team or beat the guys out in front of them, we would never hesitate as long as it makes sense financially,” Shanahan said. “But I also think we can win with the receivers we have.
“We got a number of NFL receivers, and what I mean is, guys who are NFL players. We got more than six of those.”
Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel are the team’s starting receivers. Then, the depth chart rounds out with such other receivers as Sherfield, Sanu, Richie James, Travis Benjamin, Jalen Hurd, River Cracraft and Jauan Jennings.
The 49ers seemed to have an opening for a reliable target as a slot receiver. But none of the 49ers’ eight draft picks fills that role.
“You don’t go into the draft just picking everything you want,” Shanahan said. “There’s a huge evaluation. You don’t know who’s going to get there. Yes, there are some positions you want more than others. So if some guys are in the same area of talent, you always go with the need.
“But it doesn’t always work out that way."
The 49ers traded two fourth-round draft picks to move into the third round to select Ohio State running back Trey Sermon. In the sixth round, the 49ers chose Louisiana running back Elijah Mitchell.
“We didn’t go into the draft thinking we’d take two running backs,” Shanahan said.
But that is how the draft turned out — even as, perhaps, more pressing needs went unaddressed.
“I’d always like to take a receiver,” Shanahan said. “I’d always like to take an edge rusher. But it’s got to be a guy you think can make your team. So that depends on where that round fell, and what was there when we got there.”
Twenty-nine teams selected 36 wide receivers in the draft. The 49ers, Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers were the only teams that did not address the receiver position.
The 49ers reportedly agreed to terms with undrafted rookie receiver Austin Watkins Jr. from the University Alabama at Birmingham.