Why Signing A Veteran Wide Receiver Doesn’t Make Sense For Rebuilding 49ers

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Getty Images

I don’t think you’d be going out on a limb by saying that the San Francisco 49ers have some significant question marks hanging over their current roster. Whether it’s young players who haven’t proven themselves, or veterans looking to rebound, it seems like every position group is littered with uncertainty. While this is the case across the board, you could argue that no position has as many unknowns as wide receiver.

The one thing that is for certain is that WR Torrey Smith will be one of the starters. Beyond that? Your guess is as good as mine.  As of right now, I’d say you’d have to pencil in WR Quinton Patton, WR Jerome Simpson, WR Bruce Ellington, WR DeAndre Smelter and WR Eric Rogers as the other five guys who have a chance at serious playing time. While rookie WR Aaron Burbridge, WR Dres Anderson and DeAndrew White could always surprise, it’d be foolish to really count on them at this point.

Considering the lack of clarity beyond Smith, it makes sense that free agent WR James Jones made some noise recently when he said in an interview on SirusXM NFL Radio that he would love to play for the 49ers.

“I’m right here in San Francisco, in the Niners’ backyard,” Jones said. “You know what I mean? I’d love to stay here at home and play for the Niners – don’t have to move my family or any of that stuff. My kids get to stay in school. But, at the same time, I’m just ready to play. I’ll play wherever. I’m just ready to get it on.”



On the surface, this seems like a great opportunity for San Francisco to improve their receiving corps. The 32-year old went 50/890/8 last season with the Green Bay Packers, and could definitely provide some stability opposite Smith on a one-year “prove it” type deal. The problem with that though is that he would take away valuable snaps away from the younger guys, and the 49ers absolutely have to find out what they have in the receivers who are already on the roster. It’s the same reason I believe they were right in letting the popular WR Anquan Boldin walk.

As frustrating as it can be to admit, the Niners probably aren’t going to do much this year. They’re rebuilding, and teams that are starting over have to give inexperienced players a chance to show what they can do. Take Patton and Ellington for example. Both have shown flashes of being able to make plays, but haven’t gotten enough consistent looks for anyone to really make a judgment on them. Patton has 70 career targets in three seasons (57 of them coming last year) and Ellington has 36 in two seasons. The need to play more, plain and simple.

While Patton and Ellington could take the early lead for snaps, the wild cards here are Smelter and Rogers.

At 6’2 and 226 pounds, Smelter is the kind of big, physical receiver HC Chip Kelly likes. The issue is he’s raw (only played two years of college football at Georgia Tech), and has to not only learn the NFL game, but also prove he’s 100 percent after missing his rookie year with a knee injury.

Rogers is another big bodied wide out (6-4) and was in high demand following his dominating 2015 season in the CFL. Playing for the Calgary Stampeders, Rogers led the league with 1,448 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns. Still, he’s another who has to prove his skills can translate to the NFL.

To me, Simpson falls in the same category as Jones. I understand Simpson is actually on the team, but unless the other guys opposite Smith prove to be completely incompetent, what’s the point of playing the 30-year old? Wouldn’t that only stunt the growth of his teammates?

While I do believe the 49ers are taking the right approach to the wide out position at the moment, if it backfires on them it’s something they’ll absolutely have to make a top priority in the 2017 offseason and draft. GM Trent Baalke has seemed reluctant to take a chance on a receiver early in the draft since whiffing on WR A.J. Jenkins, and he’ll need to get over that at some point if his mid-round options continue to fizzle out.

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A SUNY Oswego Alum, Al has been covering the 49ers and the NFL for various sites since 2012. From guest podcasts to work being used by ESPN NFL Insiders and USA TODAY, Al brings a wealth of knowledge about the 49ers and the NFL as a whole, and is passionate about his work and the sport of football.