Deebo Samuel

Do 49ers have more offensive weapons than Seahawks, Cardinals, Rams?

Do 49ers have more offensive weapons than Seahawks, Cardinals, Rams?

Built by a mastermind in Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers' offense was much more a sum of parts than full of stars last season. The same can be said for this upcoming season as well.

Outside of George Kittle, the 49ers don't have any true star skill players. And yet, they ranked No. 2 in rushing offense and total points last season, behind only the Baltimore Ravens, which were led by MVP Lamar Jackson. San Francisco also was 13th in passing yards per game and fourth in total yards. 

With the emergence of the Arizona Cardinals and the Seattle Seahawks always being contenders, the NFC West might have become even stronger this offseason. So, how does the 49ers' skill positions on offense compare to the rest of the division? 

Let's break it down, position by position.

Quarterback

The obvious answer here is Seahawks star Russell Wilson is the cream of the crop when it comes to QBs in the NFC West. We know that, there's no arguing that notion. 

Where it gets interesting is, who comes next?

Cardinals QB Kyler Murray took home the Offensive Rookie of the Year in a pass-heavy offense that seems primed for him to put up huge numbers. Jimmy Garoppolo gets knocked all too often, but the reality is he had one of the best seasons for a quarterback in 49ers history, one season after tearing his ACL. And then there's Jared Goff, who took a big step back last season. 

It seems Garoppolo and Murray are vying for who's No. 2 in the NFC West QB race. It will be fascinating to watch, as both offenses got better and both teams have offensive-minded coaches who should set their quarterbacks up for success.

Advantage: Seahawks

Running backs

After the Los Angeles Rams let Todd Gurley go this offseason, there aren't any true big-name running backs in the NFC West. Raheem Mostert looked like a star in the making for the 49ers with his historic performance in the NFC Championship Game, but can they rely on him to be a true No. 1 back? 

Mostert is preparing like he will get 200 carries this season, however, that seems unlikely. Even after trading Matt Breida to the Miami Dolphins, San Francisco still has a deep group of backs that will share carries outside of Mostert.

Kenyan Drake could be an emerging star in Arizona and the Rams will rotate a flurry of inexperienced backs, including rookie Cam Akers. The Seahawks have a strong option in 1,000-yard rusher Chris Carson and will use many backs after him. 

Drake and Carson might be the most gifted of the group in the NFC West, but there's a caveat with the 49ers: Jerick McKinnon looks healthy again and receiver Deebo Samuel should be seen as an extra ball-carrier.

Advantage: 49ers

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Receivers

Everything changed once the Cardinals acquired DeAndre Hopkins from the Houston Texans this offseason. Arizona now has one of the best receivers in the league, and a true No. 1 for their young QB. Pairing Hopkins with the ultra-reliable Larry Fitzgerald gives the Cardinals one of the best duos in the NFL. 

D.K. Metcalf is a problem for opposing cornerbacks and the jacked-up receiver should be even better in Year 2 for the Seahawks. He and Tyler Lockett give Seattle a solid duo, and the Rams' one-two punch of Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods is nothing to scoff at. 

So, where do the 49ers fit in? Samuel looks like the perfect weapon for Shanahan and should emerge as the No. 1 receiver for San Francisco. Kendrick Bourne continues to be clutch and is a nice secondary option. After that, it's all potential and a lot of question marks.

The 49ers have high hopes for first-round pick Brandon Aiyuk, and the same goes for Jalen Hurd and Trent Taylor coming off injuries. General manager John Lynch also haven't given up on Dante Pettis yet. 

The Cardinals have the star power, but the 49ers could have the depth. We'll give this one to Arizona, though, it's a tight contest.

Advantage: Cardinals

[RELATED: Why 49ers' Aiyuk could struggle finding targets as rookie]

Tight End

George Kittle. 

Need I say more? No, no I don't. Will Dissly (Seattle), Tyler Higbee (Los Angeles) and Maxx Williams (Arizona) all are nice pieces. None are Kittle. Not even close. 

Advantage: 49ers

The 49ers might not have the most star power, but they do have the most offensive weapons when you take into account adding Aiyuk, plus getting several injured players back this season. 

Whenever the NFL season starts, San Francisco's offense should be a scary sight for opposing defenses.

Why 49ers' Brandon Aiyuk could struggle getting targets in rookie year

Why 49ers' Brandon Aiyuk could struggle getting targets in rookie year

Going into the 2020 NFL Draft, many experts gave the 49ers either CeeDee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy or Henry Ruggs in their mock draft. Kyle Shanahan certainly was impressed by Lamb, but another receiver caught his eye: Arizona State's Brandon Aiyuk. 

The 49ers traded up in the first round of the draft to take Aiyuk at No. 25 overall, but they seriously contemplated taking the wideout as high as No. 13 when they originally were on the clock with their top pick in the first round. Coach Kyle Shanahan loved what he saw from Aiyuk on tape, and a first-round pick comes with high expectations. 

But could Aiyuk struggle to find targets from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo as a rookie? That very well could happen, especially early on. 

Pro Football Focus ranked 10 rookie receivers' situations -- not talent -- for the 2020 season and Aiyuk was at the very bottom. Again, this doesn't have to do with the ASU product's talent. It more has to do with receiver Deebo Samuel and tight end George Kittle.

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"Those two accounted for just over 40 percent of the 49ers' targets in 2019 and should only rise with Samuel in Year 2," PFF's Michael Renner wrote. "Aiyuk’s limited route tree at Arizona State could come into play, too, as the 49ers' offense doesn’t feature a ton of simplistic routes.

"In fact, their receivers had the fewest yards (529) of any group on screens, hitches, go’s, and crossers last year."

In Herm Edwards' college offense, Aiyuk thrived taking screens to the house. He had the eighth-most screen yards in the country last season. 

Shanahan has an incredibly complex offense. There always are moving parts and his play calls can sound like another language. Aiyuk is at an unprecedented disadvantage being away from the field right now due to the coronavirus and not learning the offense on the go. 

And then there's the 49ers' logjam in the receivers room. Kittle once again will be Garoppolo's top target, however, there's some serious competition at receiver.

Samuel, who has offered a helping hand to Aiyuk, could turn into a star in his second pro season and should demand a boatload of targets this year. Kendrick Bourne continues to defy the odds and led the 49ers in touchdown receptions last year, general manager John Lynch still has high hope for Dante Pettis and the return of two injured players -- Trent Taylor and Jalen Hurd -- could be huge keys to this offenses success.

[RELATED: These are the 49ers' top five future contract conundrums]

Aiyuk certainly is confident in himself and it helps having Samuel wanting to lead the way. Samuel should know firsthand how tough this offense is, though. His numbers took off in the second half of his rookie year after a bit of a slow start. 

Can Aiyuk get off the ground running? He has the talent, but also must be able to clear some tough hurdles and push some more experienced players to the side.

Jauan Jennings’ dad hopes 49ers rookie can build NFL career he couldn't

Jauan Jennings’ dad hopes 49ers rookie can build NFL career he couldn't

The NFL draft was nearing its end when Bennie Jennings started preparing for a disappointment he knew all too well. His son Jauan Jennings was certainly worthy of selection after ending his University of Tennessee tenure on a high note. It was ultimately uncertain despite 969 receiving yards as a senior team captain.

Jauan Jennings’ stock was helped by an excellent 2019 campaign and a quality Senior Bowl week, but hindered some by a slow 40-yard dash at the combine. That created some doubt whether he’d get the honor of being drafted.

Bennie Jennings didn’t get that after an excellent career at the University of North Alabama, though the tight end now inducted into his school’s Hall of Fame got a chance with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that ultimately didn’t work out.

While Bennie understands the NFL business and the benefits of choosing a destination as an undrafted free agent, fingers remained crossed Jauan would be chosen.

“We talked about the fact that, when I went through the process, I never heard my name called,” Bennie Jennings said. “As soon as the draft was over my phone blew up. That was exciting, but it’s a bit disheartening to sit through the whole process and never get picked when you really think you’re going to be.

“I kind of tried to prepare him for that, but when his name flashed across the screen and it was announced, it was just an awesome feeling.”

The 49ers selected the high-school quarterback turned standout receiver at No. 217 overall. Maybe the pick came later than everyone hoped, but it was still a moment worth savoring.

“It means everything. Since he has been able to pick up a ball playing professionally is all he has wanted to do,” Bennie Jennings said. “It’s an awesome thing to see his dream come true.”

Jennings joins the 49ers ready to battle for a roster spot, known as a receiver in the Deebo Samuel mold. He’s strong and aggressive and excellent gaining yards after the catch, with competitiveness rarely rivaled.

“I look at this offense and I see a receiver like Deebo Samuel -- I’ve known him since the SEC days,” Jauan Jennings said in a conference call after being drafted. “He’s a great receiver and he’s always had that dog, that gritty attitude that I’m going to bring as well. [Quarterback] Jimmy Garoppolo, you got him in the backfield throwing the rock. It’s just going to be hard to stop us in my mind. We’ve got a lot of weapons and I just can’t wait to go out there and help.”

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That 4.72-second 40-yard dash and speed in general is the primary knock held against him, one that has left NFL draft experts wondering if he’ll be able to separate at the professional level despite thriving in the SEC.

Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt took great exception to that criticism in a radio interview just before the draft.

“I don’t care what Jauan Jennings runs in the 40,” Pruitt said on 99.1-FM in Knoxville, Tenn. “I don’t care what he jumps on a vertical. All I know is throw him the ball. You want the ball in the guy’s hands. Wherever he gets drafted, he’s going to play and he’s going to be an impact on the team.”

Pruitt knows all about Jennings’ competitiveness and perseverance. Those traits were clear after he rebounded from a difficult 2017 season where he missed most games with a wrist injury and then got kicked off the team by an interim head coach and an athletic director no longer there following a critical video post that went viral.

Pruitt gave him a clean slate and a chance to reassert himself. Jauan Jennings took full advantage, something of which his father was particularly proud.

“I got to see a kid grown into a man,” Bennie Jennings said. “He just developed and matured over that year, and before that going into his senior year. He has matured even more during that season. As a parent that’s what you want to see. You want to see them make strides and take that next step into becoming a man. That’s what I saw, and I very proud of him for what he has done.”

[RELATED: Why Jennings intrigues former GM McCloughan]

Bennie Jennings hopes his son can take the next step and establish an NFL career. Jennings didn’t latch on with the Buccaneers but quickly established a great and ongoing tenure in law enforcement. He has been in that field nearly 27 years now, currently working with the Tennessee Highway Patrol’s Criminal Investigation Division.

Bennie was a Tennessee prep legend with a football state title to his credit. Jauan was 2014’s Mr. Football in Tennessee but never won a championship in that sport, though he got one in basketball. Father and son were even competitive over such high-level accomplishments, but Bennie Jennings would love nothing more than to see his son go farther than him in the NFL.

“I played at a small school, which was Division II back then, and you really had a lot of overcome to make an NFL team back in those days,” Bennie Jennings said. “You’ll hear no excuses from me. The reason I didn’t make it is because of me. When I learned what I did right and what I did wrong, I’ve given him all those experiences so he can capitalize on that.”

They both have a competitive streak and plenty of confidence as athletes, and Jauan should be helped by his dad’s experience as he tries to thrive with the 49ers.

“We have the same attitude toward the game, but I think he’s more intense,” Bennie Jennings said. “That’s what I hope I have instilled in him over the years, is that you have to be passionate about what you’re doing. If you want it, you have to take it. Nobody’s going to give it. That’s just him, but that’s also just me.”