The 49ers will certainly bring in some new talent at wide receiver this offseason, but the question is, will they focus on veteran free agents or upgrade via the draft?
As Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee noted this week, it's seeming more likely the 49ers will have a greater selection of talent available in free agency. This year’s draft, he notes, "appears to be short on high-end receivers."
This class of free agents has become deeper now that the Rams and Jaguars have not put franchise tags on Sammy Watkins and Allen Robinson, meaning that duo will join a list that includes such targets as Done Moncrief of the Colts, Jordan Matthews of the Bills, Taylor Gabriel of the Falcons (who played for Kyle Shanahan), John Brown of the Cardinals and Paul Richardson of the Seahawks.
Watkins, a former first-rounder taken by the Bills in 2014 out of Clemson, has been impressive at times, but his production has dropped markedly in the past two seasons. He's only 25, though, so a team could be willing to gamble he could prosper in the right system.
In 2017, Watkins had 39 catches for 593 yards and eight touchdowns for the Rams, after a 28-catch, 43-yard, two-TD season for Buffalo in 2016. In his first two seasons, Watkins had 65 catches for 982 yards and 96 receptions for 1,047 yards.
Robinson is coming off a season in which he played just one game, tearing a knee ligament. So there will be questions about how fit he is. But He’s probably a more intriguing talent than Watkins.
At 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, he’d give quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo a big target to add to a smallish receiving corps, and he was extremely productive his previous two years with a quarterback (Blake Bortles) who isn’t known for his accuracy.
In 2015, Robinson was a Pro Bowler, with 80 catches for 1,400 yards and a league-leading 14 TDs. In 2016 he had 73 catches for 883 yards and six scores.
Matt Harmon of NFL.com rates Robinson the best receiver in the free-agent class — if he’s healthy.
"If he gets free and his knee checks out, teams should shove each other out of the way to pitch Robinson on working with their quarterbacks for 2018 and beyond." wrote Harmon.
Watkins and Robinson will carry high price tags, however, and the 49ers could get more value elsewhere.
"There are a lot of other receivers — Paul Richardson, John Brown, Taylor Gabriel, etc. — that will cost less," wrote Barrows. "I don’t know how aggressively they will go after any one guy."