The San Francisco 49ers have a franchise quarterback for the first time in nearly two decades. Having a franchise quarterback means the team doesn’t need to pay a premium price for wide receivers. The Niners found bargain receivers like Marquise Goodwin, Trent Taylor and Pierre Garcon last season. What will they do this year?
Even with the Niners receiving core surpassing expectations last season, the team still lacks a bonafide number one receiver. Goodwin, Taylor, Garcon, and George Kittle are good between the twenties, but the Niners lack that Julio Jones, AJ Green, Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski red zone receiver.
Finding either a red zone target or number one receiver should be one of many priorities for the Niners.
Providing Jimmy Garoppolo with a big bodied red zone target will take his game to the next level. Every touchdown pass Garoppolo had last year was either him improvising or Shanahan scheming a wide receiver open. There wasn’t one time Garoppolo could just throw a jump ball and have his receiver make a play. Jump balls and fades are two popular red zone plays and the Niners lack a receiver who can make those plays.
Now let’s get into the receivers who fit the description above.
Allen Robinson of the Jacksonville Jaguars is the consensus number one receiver for Niner fans everywhere. He’s 6’3” 215 pounds, 24 years old and, most importantly, doesn’t want to be in Jacksonville. Robinson has been very vocal both in practice and social media about his frustration with quarterback Blake Bortles. Robinson knows he can be a top five receiver in the league with a competent quarterback.
Robinson had 80 catches for 1400 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2015 and in 2016 had 73 catches for 883 yards and 6 touchdowns. If he was putting up those numbers with Bortles, imagine him with Garoppolo and Shanahan.
The only downside is Robinson is coming off a torn ACL he suffered in week one of the 2017 season and he will more than likely get tagged by the Jaguars because he’s by far their best receiver.
Assuming Robinson is gone and with Jarvis Landry recently franchised, who should be the next target?
There are three more wide receivers who the Niners could go after, Paul Richardson of the Seattle Seahawks, Donte Moncrief of the Indianapolis Colts and Sammy Watkins of the Los Angeles Rams.
All three bring something different to the table, but none of these guys really move the needle in the way Robinson does.
Richardson would be another deep threat who can take the top off the defense. Goodwin and Richardson would give Taylor, Garcon, Kittle and the Niners running backs loads of space underneath. Richardson also can play over the middle and run a variety of routes as he had over 800 yards and 6 touchdowns on a very inconsistent Seattle offense. Richardson also is very adept at winning jump balls against biggest defensive backs. For someone 6’0” tall this is an underrated trait.
Watkins may be franchised by the Los Angeles Rams, but if he hits the free agent market he will certainly garner interest. Like Richardson, Watkins has the potential to be a game breaker, as he has 25 touchdown receptions in 52 career games and legit 4.4 speed. However, he hasn’t put all his skills together yet. He’s had issues with drops, injuries and inability to get on the same page with quarterbacks. He is a much riskier option than someone like Richardson, where the Niners would know what they are getting.
Finally, Moncrief is the definition of low-risk, high reward. Moncrief has struggled to translate his physical gifts into consistent production. In three of his four seasons Moncrief had less than 500 yards receiving. His best year was 2015 where he had 733 yards and 6 touchdowns.
In his defense, Moncrief has never been a legitimate number one option so it’s hard to know how he would perform as one.
What makes Moncrief so intriguing is his 6’2’’ 216 pound frame, 4.40 speed, his 39.5 vertical jump and being only 24 years old. Moncrief looks like a red zone target and he’s the type of signing I could see the Niners making, because it would be cheap and they would be investing in his potential.
There are also receivers in this year’s draft class who fit the bill as red zone targets who I will analyze another time. Having an elite play caller and quarterback makes San Francisco an intriguing landing spot for free agents, and Richardson, Watkins or Moncrief could be looking at the Niners as an opportunity to prove themselves.