When the 49ers acquired Emmanuel Sanders from the Broncos near the trade deadline in late October, it was a clear signal San Francisco needed an upgrade to its receiving corps.
With Marquise Goodwin hurt and Dante Pettis not living up to expectations, the Niners needed a high-impact wide receiver for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. The 49ers were winning at the time – 6-0 – but knew they needed to improve for the playoff drive and the postseason.
Said head coach Kyle Shanahan at the time: “When you do have a chance (to improve) like we do with our record, if we felt we could add to our team and not truly jeopardize it (the future), that’s something we were looking to do.”
Now, with the 49ers at 11-2 and ready for the final three games of the regular-season before a dive into the postseason, it’s clear the trade for Sanders was a turning point. With Sanders, this 49ers wide receivers group is much more productive than it was before he arrived. And that’s made the 49ers offense as a whole much better.
As Grant Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat wrote this week, the arrival of Sanders helped a couple of other wideouts improve their games, too – specifically rookie Deebo Samuel and Kendrick Bourne – and Garoppolo now has more dynamic targets to go with already-terrific tight end George Kittle.
In his seven games with the 49ers, Sanders has caught 28 passes for 407 yards and three touchdowns, with an average of 14.5 yards per reception. And, he’s coming off a huge performance in a win over the Saints this past Sunday, when he had seven catches on nine targets for 157 yards and a TD. Over that same seven-game span, Samuel has blossomed, with 32 catches for 472 yards and two TDs, and Bourne has emerged, with 18 receptions for 179 yards and a whopping five TDs (including two against the Saints).
As Cohn noted, the 49ers now have a strong three-wide receiver combo, something the team didn’t have to start the season.
“When Emmanuel got here, they were showing us we needed to step up as a receiver group,” Bourne told Cohn. “It woke us up. I became more locked in. Someone giving you an extra push always works.”
The trade-deadline move by general manager John Lynch and Shanahan has certainly made the offense much more dangerous than it was in September. Before the trade, Garoppolo had two games with a quarterback rating of 100 or better. Since Sanders’ arrival, he’s achieved that rating six times.
The Niners will go for their 12th victory Sunday at Levi’s Stadium against the 4-9 Atlanta Falcons. Kickoff is set for 1:25 p.m.