Matt Maiocco

49ers must find starting wide receiver in free agency or 2019 NFL Draft

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USATSI

49ers must find starting wide receiver in free agency or 2019 NFL Draft

Editor's note: The 49ers season isn't over, but we'll keep one eye on the future with our weekly series on the team's biggest needs heading into 2019 and how voids can be filled best. Last week, we looked at edge rushers. This week's focus is on wide receivers.

The 49ers have struggled to find a No. 1 receiver since ... well, since Terrell Owens was shipped off to Philadelphia before the 2004 season, anyway.

Since that time, the 49ers have selected 20 wide receivers in the draft, including Rashaun Woods (2004), Michael Crabtree (2009) and A.J. Jenkins (2012) in the first round.

Only Crabtree produced a 1,000-yard season for the 49ers (2012). Woods and Jenkins combined for seven receptions for 160 yards and one touchdown in their 49ers careers.

Seriously.

Jenkins never caught a pass as a rookie in 2012, and he was traded away before he even got to the regular season in Year 2.

The 49ers got a couple of good seasons from Anquan Boldin in 2013 and ’14. But the 49ers again find themselves without a true No. 1 wide receiver who can strike fear into an opposing defense.

[RELATED: Two receivers limited one day after practicing]

But maybe the 49ers already have their No. 1 target. After all, tight end George Kittle is likely to have more receiving yards this season than any 49ers player since Owens was catching passes from Jeff Garcia.

Still, the 49ers need more weapons on the outside.

Players likely to stay in 2019

Dante Pettis: The 49ers invested a second-pick in Pettis, so that shows how the 49ers valued him and that position after not finding a match with anyone in free agency. Pettis has played very well since getting healthy and taking over on a full-time basis. He also has versatility.

Pettis can play each of the 49ers’ three receiver positions. He has 19 catches for 363 yards. He has an impressive 19.1 yards per reception and a team-leading five touchdowns. It is debatable whether he can be a No. 1, but the semantics are irrelevant. The 49ers expect him to be a valued contributor for a while.

Marquise Goodwin: The 49ers never envisioned Goodwin being forced into such a prominent role when they signed him as a free agent on the first day of the 2017 league year. Goodwin had a career year, which earned him a contract extension.

This season, he has been plagued by injuries, inconsistencies and family issues that forced him to step away from the team for two games. The 49ers like Goodwin, but they believe his strength would be in a more specialized role.

So while the 49ers will look to bring in a receiver who is more of an every-down player, Goodwin still figures prominently as a weapon to keep fresh throughout games.

Player likely to go

Pierre Garçon: He got off to a great start with the 49ers, and despite issues at quarterback was well on his way to a 1,000-yard season in 2017. After a neck injury cut his season short, Garçon did not look like the same presence upon his return this season.

He had a quiet training camp, and never got going. He never had more than 60 receiving yards in any of the eight games in which he played. After being inactive for five of the past six weeks, he underwent a season-ending procedure on his knee this week.

The 49ers will look to get younger, faster and more cost-effiective.

49ers offseason plan

FREE AGENCY: This certainly is not the avenue teams want to go down in order to pick up a No. 1 receiver.

The cost of doing business for wide receivers on the free-agent market is crazy. Let’s take Donte Moncrief, for example. He did not produce in four seasons with the Indianapolis Colts. Over the previous two years, he averaged 10 ½ games, 28 receptions and 349 yards.

Although he received just a one-year contract, the Jacksonville Jaguars paid him $9.6 million. By his standards, he is having a very good season, with 42 receptions for 604 yards with three touchdowns. The Jaguars are getting everything they could have hoped from him. But is he a No. 1 receiver?

The top-producing wide receivers scheduled for unrestricted free agency are Golden Tate (Philadelphia) and John Brown (Baltimore). Tate, 31, and Brown, 29, have receiving totals of 718 and 706 yards, respectively. That does not appear to be what the 49ers want to add to the mix.

DRAFT: Potentially, this draft could set up well for the 49ers to get one of the better wide receivers.

There is no superstar. The first wide receiver probably will not be taken until the latter half of the first round. The 49ers will not select a wide receiver with their first selection. That most likely will be used on an edge rusher.

[RELATED: Five 2019 NFL Draft prospects who could help 49ers win next season]

But when the 49ers’ second pick rolls around, there could be a handful of options who have size and potential, such as A.J. Brown (Ole Miss), J.J. Arcego-Whiteside (Stanford), D.K. Metcalf (Ole Miss), Kelvin Harmon (N.C. State) and N’Keal Harry (Arizona State).

BOTTOM LINE: The need for another wide receiver is apparent. Pettis, Goodwin and Kendrick Bourne will return on the outside. Trent Taylor and Richie James Jr. will return to compete for roles as the slot receiver.

The 49ers need to add another legitimate threat on the outside to create more conflicts for opposing defenses. They will certainly look to improve in free agency, but the addition of an impact player might have to wait until the draft.

Arik Armstead's run defense as good as it gets, says Kyle Shanahan

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Arik Armstead's run defense as good as it gets, says Kyle Shanahan

SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers in April picked up the fifth-year option on defensive end Arik Armstead for the 2019 season.

But his one-year, $9.046 million salary does not become guaranteed until March.

Armstead, a first-round draft pick in 2015, has three sacks while starting all 13 games at defensive end. But he appears to be earning his money in the run game, where coach Kyle Shanahan places him among the NFL’s elite.

“I’m extremely happy,” Shanahan said on "49ers Game Plan," which airs Saturday at 7 p.m. on NBC Bay Area (Ch. 3).

“He’s as hard as anyone there is to go against. I’ve seen him practice every day. He’s a pain for us to go against every day in training camp. I see it on Sunday, also.”

Armstead rates as the NFL’s No. 3 edge defender against the run, according to Pro Football Focus’ grading system. Only Jacksonville’s Calais Campbell and Houston’s Jadeveon Clowney rank ahead of Armstead.

At 6-foot-7, 292 pounds, Armstead has 40 tackles and six tackles for loss, ranking second on the 49ers among defensive linemen behind DeForest Buckner. Linebacker Fred Warner was asked if Armstead can manhandle offensive linemen.

“He can and he does,” Warner said. “He’s a big dude, and he uses his size and his strength to his advantage. He makes some plays, like, ‘Oooh.’ He makes plays that jump off the tape. That’s been big for us up front.”

The 49ers rank 12th in the NFL in run defense, allowing 107.8 yards per game. The opposition is averaging 4.1 yards per rushing attempt, which ranks 10th-best in the league.

Still, the 49ers have a decision to make in the offseason with Armstead, even if it appears obvious the coaching staff will lobby for Armstead's return.

[RELATED: 49ers snap count: Looking to the future, going younger on defense]

Rookie defensive linemen Kentavius Street, who was cleared this week to practice after sustaining a torn ACL before the draft, and Jullian Taylor also play the “big end” position.

But while the $9.046 million devoted to Armstead is large, the 49ers are expected to have more than $65 million in cap space next season even with Armstead’s salary on the books.

“We’d love sacks, of course. I know he would; I would; fans would. But that doesn’t always happen,” Shanahan said. “We need four guys rushing great together. I know Arik can get better in that area, but he also has done some good things in the pass rush.

"Just collectively, I think we can get better. But you ask me about the run game, Arik is as good as anyone I’ve seen right now.”

Joe Montana evaluates 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens' decision-making

Joe Montana evaluates 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens' decision-making

SANTA CLARA – Nick Mullens’ back-to-back big-yardage games drew a reporter’s comparison to Joe Montana this week.

“That’s a far-fetched way to connect me to Joe Montana,” Mullens responded with a laugh.

Plenty of what Mullens said this week was not far-fetched at all to the Hall of Famer himself.

“He knows he has to continue to do the things that he knows he can do and not try to become a player that he’s not,” Montana told NBC Sports Bay Area on Thursday when asked about Mullens. “He seems to stay within his realm. Occasionally, he tries a little too hard. But we all do it.

“I think it was Clint Eastwood who said, ‘A man’s got to know his limitations.’ That’s what you got to be in that position. You can’t try to be a big, strong, flat-footed-throwing guy if you’re not. You can’t try to be a runner if you’re not. You can run if you have to, but that’s not where he fits in.”

[RELATED: Jeff Garcia: Nick Mullens continues to do what's asked of him]

Mullens said something nearly identical a day earlier without quoting Dirty Harry from the movie “Magnum Force” when he was asked why he was not surprised when he went undrafted.

“I understand my limitations,” Mullens said. “I understand what strengths I have and the strengths that I don’t have, and I understand how the process worked. I never expected to get drafted, to be honest, and if I did, it would’ve been really cool. But, I’m just glad I got my opportunity, and it was good enough."

The 49ers signed Mullens as an undrafted rookie in 2017 after his record-setting career at Southern Mississippi. In five starts this season since replacing C.J. Beathard, Mullens has completed 63.8 percent of his pass attempts for 1,479 yards with nine touchdowns and six interceptions. His passer rating is a team-best 93.5.

Montana said Mullens is making good decisions and performing well despite lacking a supporting cast with “a bunch of offensive weapons.”

Said Montana, “As a quarterback you have to have a good memory and a bad memory. You got to forget things quickly and put things behind you because you’re going to make mistakes. There’s nothing you can do about it. But you should never give up on yourself, and that’s where he is.”