Kendrick Bourne took an enormous step forward in 2018, becoming one of the 49ers’ top wide receivers in just his second season.
Bourne, an undrafted free agent out of Eastern Washington who signed with San Francisco in 2017, played in just 11 games as a rookie and had 16 catches for 257 yards. Last season, he played in all 16 games, started eight and had 42 catches for 487 yards and the first four touchdowns of his pro career.
The wide receiving corps was so thin that Bourne’s 487 yards led the team.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan said last season it took a while for Bourne to get acclimated to the pro game, but once he did, he made big strides.
“When he’s gotten those opportunities (to play), he’s taken advantage of them,” said Shanahan. “I think he’s going in the right direction.”
But as the 49ers get ready to open training camp on July 26, it’s clear Bourne will have to battle not only to stay on the roster but to earn playing time on a much deeper group of wideouts.
The 49ers signed veteran free agent Jordan Matthews and used second- and third-round draft picks on Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd. Plus, Dante Pettis and Marquise Goodwin are good enough to start and Trent Taylor (healthy again) and Richie James are potentially very good.
So, despite his production in 2018, Bourne will need a great summer to secure the place he earned in the passing game over the second half of last year. Vinnie Iyer of The Sporting News recently predicted it could come down to Bourne fighting for one of the final two wide receiver slots on the roster because of a commitment to high picks and holdover veterans.
As of now, the spotlight is on Pettis, Samuel and Goodwin in starring roles, with Hurd also penciled in as a versatile wideout/tight end/running back moving piece. That could leave Bourne vulnerable.
But, Bourne as a non-drafted free agent has battled long odds before, and prospered. He’ll just have to do it again.