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2019 NFL Draft: Second round is sweet spot for wide receiver-needy 49ers

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49ers NFL Draft 2019: Wide Receivers
© Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The 2019 NFL Draft class is full of talent at the wide receiver position, but the lack of an elite prospect makes the second round the perfect spot for the San Francisco 49ers to draft a starting wideout.

After signing quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to a record-breaking contract, the San Francisco 49ers entered last season with high expectations for their wide receiving corps. Despite the prior breakout season of newcomer Marquise Goodwin, the emergence of rookie third-down specialist Trent Taylor and the return of veteran wide receiver Pierre Garcon, the 49ers added a pair of receivers — Dante Pettis and Richie James — in the draft for added insurance.

After boasting the NFL’s top offense with Garoppolo under center in 2017, the 49ers appeared to have a formidable passing attack as the 2018 season began. In the end, the Niners’ wide receivers would prove to be a record-breaking group, but not as the team’s front office intended:

The injury bug hit the 49ers’ passing game hard in 2018, beginning with a Week 1 injury to Goodwin. Two weeks later, Garoppolo was lost for the remainder of the year. With backup quarterback C.J. Beathard under center, Garcon attempted to fight through nagging injuries until his season — and 49ers career — finally fizzled out. The 2018 season proved to be a lost year for Taylor, who never fully recovered from offseason back surgery, as well as Goodwin, who missed extensive time due to both injury and personal reasons. Third-string QB Nick Mullens was eventually able to breathe some life into the Niners’ passing attack, but mostly through the unsustainable overuse of All-Pro tight end George Kittle.

Pettis showed promise over the latter portion of the season and should play a major role going forward, and Taylor claims to be healthy and ready for 2019. But with Garcon gone and Goodwin seemingly focused on the 2020 Olympics instead of football, the San Francisco 49ers are back in the market for a wide receiver. Despite a lack of talented options in free agency, 49ers general manager John Lynch nearly addressed the team’s deficiency over the offseason with a blockbuster trade for New York Giants star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Unfortunately, Giants GM Dave Gettleman decided against trading his prized wideout to the highest bidder.

The 49ers need to add talent at the wide receiver position in the upcoming 2019 NFL Draft, but the team has more pressing areas of need. If San Francisco lucks themselves into the opportunity to select the best player in the draft — Ohio State edge rusher Nick Bosa — with the second overall pick, they should jump at the chance. Unless another team offers a bevy of picks in exchange for the Niners’ first-round selection, Bosa is the obvious choice for a multitude of reasons, including the fact that this year’s draft class lacks a wide receiver worthy of a top pick.

The 2019 NFL Draft does have a consensus top wide receiver — Mississippi’s D.K. Metcalf — who has been declared a first-round value by the vast majority of analysts. But using the No. 2 overall pick on a raw boom-or-bust athletic talent like Metcalf would be playing Russian roulette with your team’s salary cap — and your job security as a general manager — due to the guaranteed contract rules in the NFL’s current Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Although he has tremendous upside, Metcalf has far too many red flags to be handed a $35.5 million guaranteed contract. And like I recently discussed, Metcalf doesn’t fit the mold of the type of wide receiver coveted by 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan:

Metcalf would be a more appropriate selection at the top of the second round, where he could potentially earn $7.7 million over four years as opposed to $8.8 million guaranteed per season, but he’ll be long gone before the 49ers’ second pick of the 2019 NFL Draft.

So, who will be available for San Francisco to select with pick No. 36? Odds are the 49ers will have the opportunity to draft a wide receiver who will have a more productive NFL career than the first wideout taken in the draft. The challenge will be determining which player to select, as analyst’s opinions of this year’s wide receiver class vary greatly. Even with the consensus top receiver, there is little consistency; the Draft Network aggressively ranks Metcalf as this year’s No. 5 overall prospect, while Pro Football Focus lists him at No. 17 on their Top-250 Big Board, despite the flurry of negative observations contained in his PFF draft profile:

Metcalf annihilated defenses when he was targeted on either a go, back shoulder or end-zone fade route, generating an elite receiving grade and 11 explosive plays. On all other routes, however, he recorded a 60.8 receiving grade.

During his time at Ole Miss, Metcalf struggled mightily with catching the ball. Throughout his career, Metcalf dropped seven of his 74 catchable passes. Out of PFF’s top receivers in the draft, only Iowa State WR Hakeem Butler had a worse drop rate in 2018.

His lack of versatility could hinder his success at the next level. With his speed and athleticism, Metcalf has the potential to be an effective receiver in the NFL but an uncertain future due to his unproven past.

Given the varying opinions regarding the top prospect, the fact that analysts can’t come to a consensus on the remainder of this year’s wide receiver draft class is understandable — but not to this extent.

After Metcalf, the Draft Network ranks two additional wideouts as first-round talents, while PFF states that four more wide receivers are worthy of a first-round selection. Surprisingly, there’s no overlap between the two lists of first-round talents. And between the two sites, 11 receivers are given second-round grades, yet only one player — South Carolina’s Deebo Samuel — is a consensus second-round selection.

Even the strongest pre-draft consensus proves to weaken once teams are officially on the clock. If the media can’t come to a general decision after months of analysis and debate, we can only imagine where this year’s crop of wide receivers will be ranked in NFL war rooms on draft day. The combination of uncertainty and a draft class with strong-but-not-elite talent at the position puts the 49ers in a perfect situation to draft a starting-caliber receiver at the top of the second round. The only potential hurdle would be an early run on wide receivers, but history tells us this is extremely unlikely. Stay tuned, as we break it down for you in Part 2 later this week.

Chris Wilson is the Lead Writer for Locked on 49ers - part of the Locked On Podcast Network. You may have seen Chris Wilson’s work on NFL game theory, statistical analysis and film breakdowns at FanSided, Niner Noise, 49ers Webzone, ClutchPoints, Insidethe49 and others. Follow Chris Wilson on Twitter @cgawilson.

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San Francisco 49ers

PODCAST: Weekly Wink, Trade Rumors

Brian Peacock

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https://cms.megaphone.fm/channel/lockedonnfl?selected=LKN1790036475
  • Guest: Nick Winkler
  • Jalen Ramsey trade rumors intensify
  • Is it worth spending on offensive tackle Trent Williams?
  • Could young star safety Jamal Adams hit the trade market?
  • 49ers primed for a 3-0 start

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San Francisco 49ers

PODCAST: 49ers-Steelers Crossover

Brian Peacock

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© Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
  • Guests: Tony Serino and Christopher Carter of Locked On Steelers
  • What to expect from second-year QB Mason Rudolph, who is starting in place of injured Ben Roethlisberger
  • How new Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick fits in
  • Predictions

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San Francisco 49ers

49ers vs. Bengals: San Francisco Week 2 Game Balls & Highlights

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49ers Bengals Week 2 Game Balls Highlights
© Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Game balls and highlights from the San Francisco 49ers’ 41-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 2 of the 2019 NFL regular season.

On yesterday’s Locked On 49ers Podcast, host Brian Peacock provided a rundown of the Niners’ game — including game notes and key takeaways — and handed out four game balls to the San Francisco 49ers from their Week 2 blowout win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

The 49ers made a statement to the rest of the league during their second consecutive road victory to start the 2019 NFL regular season. Outside of a long garbage-time touchdown given up in the final minute of the matchup, the 49ers’ defense was dominant, finishing the game with four sacks, nine tackles-for-loss and one interception.

But despite holding the Bengals to just 25 yards on 19 rushing attempts, San Francisco’s offensive unit shined the brightest in Week 2 — which brings us to our first game ball:

49ers HC Kyle Shanahan

San Francisco’s offensive attack was nearly unstoppable in Week 2, and much of their success should be credited to 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, who called one of his best games since arriving in the Bay Area over two seasons ago. The Niners tallied 572 net yards on offense at an 8.4 yards-per-play clip, and were forced to punt the ball just once during meaningful play, prior to the final two minutes of the game.

Shanahan — the 49ers’ de facto offensive coordinator — was always one step ahead of the Bengals’ defense, which was constantly confused by the Niners’ flurry of misdirection plays. With Cincinnati’s defenders forced to play both passively and reactionary, 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo took advantage by throwing for 297 passing yards and three scores. Garoppolo executed on the field, but he had Shanahan’s superb game plan to thank for his FexEx Air Passer of the Week nomination, as well as his 131.2 passer rating and his 11.9 yards-per-pass-attempt — both of which were tops in the NFL in Week 2.

 

49ers RB Matt Breida

Prior to the beginning of the regular season, many analysts wrote 49ers running back Matt Breida off as either a potential change-of-pace option in San Francisco’s backfield or a player who would simply ride the bench in 2019. But just two games into the season, Breida has officially put that talk to rest by claiming his well-deserved spot at the top of the 49ers’ running back depth chart, even after fellow RB Tevin Coleman eventually returns from injury.

Breida was electric on Sunday as he tallied 121 rushing yards on only 12 carries, and added 11 yards through the air on one reception. The former undrafted free agent may never be a 25-carry feature back, but it’s hard to ignore a runner who averages over 10 yards-per-touch. Breida’s outstanding Week 2 performance was  highlighted by a 34-yard gain on a third-and-short run, where he looked a lot more like Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders than a bench player who should be relegated to the sidelines:

 

49ers Offensive Line

Although Breida has the speed and agility necessary to break off long runs after making defenders miss, he surely didn’t mind running through some of the gaping holes the 49ers’ offensive line provided on Sunday. Breida wasn’t the only beneficiary of San Francisco’s big men up front, as the 49ers’ trio of running backs graded out as the NFL’s top unit of the week by Pro Football Focus (PFF). Recent practice-squad RB Jeff Wilson found the end zone for a pair of scores in the contest, and dual-threat running back Raheem Mostert followed his blockers on long runs and screen passes en route to a spot on PFF’s “NFL Team of the Week” for Week 2:

It was a near-perfect day for the Niners’ offensive line, as they also kept Garoppolo’s jersey clean for the vast majority of the game. But a dark cloud fell over the group in the third quarter of the team’s Week 2 victory, when left tackle Joe Staley sustained a fractured left fibula which will keep the 49ers’ top lineman out of action for approximately six to eight weeks.

 

49ers LB Kwon Alexander

Last week, linebacker Kwon Alexander received a game ball from Shanahan in the 49ers’ locker room after the team’s 31-17 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, despite his early exit from his Niners debut. Alexander was ejected from the contest when his helmet made contact with the helmet of former teammate Jameis Winston, when the quarterback awkwardly went to the ground at the end of a third-down scramble. In the limited time prior to his questionable ejection, Alexander looked like the player Shanahan and general manager John Lynch hoped to sign, as the 25-year-old linebacker flew around the field making plays and hyping up his teammates.

Last Sunday, Alexander earned his 49ers game ball for his leadership in the locker room and his passion for the game. This Sunday, Alexander earned Locked On 49ers game ball for his leadership in the locker room, his passion for the game and his production on the field. Alexander not only brought the same level of intensity to Cincinnati, but the linebacker was also one of the best — and most productive — players on the field in Week 2. With a key interception, three defended passes and six tackles, Alexander earned PFF “NFL Team of the Week” honors, and our final game ball of the week:

 

Listen to Locked On 49ers host Brian Peacock’s review of the San Francisco 49ers’ Week 2 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals — including game notes and key takeaways from the Niners’ second matchup of the 2019 NFL regular season — on yesterday’s Rapid React podcast:

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