49Ers 2018 training camp a look at the battles at wide receiver – field gulls

In February, the San Francisco 49ers signed quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to a five-year, $137.5 million contract that will keep him around well into the early part of the 2020s. To have that type of commitment to a quarterback, you not only have to believe in him, but you have to believe in your ability to surround him with talented players. Head coach Kyle Shanahan should know this as well as anybody.

With the Atlanta Falcons, Shanahan not only had Matt Ryan, he had Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu. In a previous stop with Washington, Shanahan had Robert Griffin III but his lone weapon of note may have been Pierre Garcon. Is he in the exact same boat now with the 49ers, whose top weapon at receiver may be Garcon? Or is there more in the tank and could Garoppolo be developing a highly productive output with several of the receivers currently located in the Bay?

Garcon, who turns 32 in a couple of weeks, went into last season as the 49ers top receiver but came out on injured reserve after hurting his neck against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 8. We very recently saw neck injuries take out the careers of Cliff Avril and Kam Chancellor, so what are the odds that Garcon is coming back okay? As of now, it looks like all things are a go for Garcon, so expect him to be in training camp and fighting off the younger guns for number one targets. He managed to be productive even with Brian Hoyer and C.J. Beathard last season (500 yards in eight games) so he should do even better during his first stint with Garoppolo. Or so Shanahan hopes, we can’t say for sure if Jimmy G only has chemistry with Marquise Goodwin and if he’ll continue to favor the younger guys. Garcon was just 63rd in DYAR and 55th in DVOA last season, but he showed he can still have an impact when it matters most:

If Garcon is healthy, I believe he should re-take the job as San Francisco’s number one receiver. He’s just the most talented guy on the roster at that position. That would potentially lead him back over 110 targets … which would still be a lot less than the last time he worked with Shanahan, which was 181 targets with Washington back in 2013. Let’s say instead that he gets 120 targets with the Niners this year, he’s more than capable of catching 62% of those and gaining 12 yards per reception. A season like that would mean that Garcon is in line for 74 catches and 888 yards. That may seem underwhelming for a number one, but it’s not out of character for Garcon and I believe Shanahan is looking to spread the ball around anyway to make Garoppolo as successful as he can be.

Goodwin had a spectacular 2017 with the Niners. He’s on my list of top five fantasy WRs in the NFC West now that he’ll have his first full season of teaming up with Garoppolo. And while most think Garcon is probably a given as WR1, Goodwin’s numbers are more than enough to dethrone him. He ranked 34th overall in DVOA and 24th in DYAR. Some predict Goodwin’s targets will be the one to take the hit, but he’s already proven himself to be the guy to step up when they need him, so it’s not as though Kyle Shanahan doesn’t know what he’s getting. I mean, just look at this brilliant sweep he had set up for him against the Rams:

Hoyer threads that ball right between two defenders and directly into Taylors arms, and he just cruises right into the end zone. A small but powerful option as a slot receiver, Taylor had two touchdowns last season and had 60 targets on the year. With both Garcon and Goodwin healthy I could see that number dropping a bit more, plus Taylor is coming off of offseason back surgery. However, when he played with Garoppolo last season, Taylor caught an incredible 17 of 20 targets with 9.6 yards per target. That likely means that Garoppolo will favor Taylor when he gets the opportunity to do so, so it’s possible that a healthy Taylor could draw a lot more attention than we expect.

Dante Pettis was the 49ers second round pick this year, going 44th overall. Pettis put on quite a show at the University of Washington with 2,256 yards in his collegiate career — including 15 touchdowns as a junior opposite of John Ross — as well as nine punt return touchdowns. One of his main flaws however is his inconsistency. Some of that grit and power that we’ve seen on his punt returns doesn’t seem to transfer over to his production as a wide receiver.

If his workload increased and he raised his rather-abysmal 47% catch percentage, maybe Bourne could get in 50 targets at a rate of 55% catches. That might put him around 28 receptions and 420 yards. There’s just a few unknowns to consider around Bourne (and the rest of these players), like the development of Pettis and the health/production of Garcon at this stage in his career. Overall, expect Shanahan to spread it around and for that to not be a Julio Jones-type who sucks up much of the targets; they’ll likely be sharing Garoppolo’s attention a lot and Bourne figures to be a part of that.

The Niners hope they scored big time with their seventh round pick in Richie James. In his three years at Middle Tennessee State, the rookie posted 3,249 receiving yards and 23 touchdowns, while also playing some wildcat quarterback in 2016. James is on the smaller side (5’10, 183 lbs) which may not be an issue aside from the fact that Taylor has already proven himself as that smaller slot receiver; it just means that James could be spending his 2018 as a developmental player that San Francisco refuses to let go of. He has speed (4.48 40-yard dash) and showed off plenty of toughness over the course of the Niners mini-camp earlier this summer:

Cornerback Emmanuel Moseley got his hand under the back of James’ helmet and the two men became tangled. James’ helmet popped off, and as James stumbled out of his in-breaking cut, Moseley tumbled to the ground. The pass was already in the air and a helmet-less James quickly adjusted to snatch the ball out of the air in the one-on-one drill.