Niners Add Jeremy Kerley to Depleted Group of Wide Receivers

Former Lion and Jet could slip into slot-receiver role while also contributing as a punt returner

With slot receiver Bruce Ellington suffering a hamstring injury Friday night against the Packers – and several other injuries depleting their wide receiver group – the 49ers have added NFL veteran Jeremy Kerley to the mix.

Kerley, entering his sixth NFL season, was traded by the Detroit Lions to the 49ers this weekend for offensive lineman Brandon Thomas.

Kerley, a 5-foot-9, 188-pounder from TCU, had been signed by the Lions after he played five seasons with the New York Jets. But Kerley apparently was on the verge of being cut before opening day because of a deep group of receivers on the Lions roster, noted Kevin Patra of

Kerley will immediately become a candidate to make the Niners’ roster, especially if Ellington’s injury proves to be as significant as it appeared Friday night. As Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle reported, the 49ers already have lost three wide receivers to injury this summer: Eric Rogers, DeAndre Smelter and rookie Bryce Treggs.

Kerley last season with the Jets had just 16 catches for 152 yards and two touchdowns, but he could fit into the slot role Ellington was due to fill, should Ellington be out for a while. In his four previous seasons with the Jets, Kerley had seasons of 38, 43, 56 and 29 catches. His best season was 2012, when he had 56 catches for 827 yards, a 14.8-average per reception.

Kerley also gives the 49ers an experienced punt returner. He led the NFL with 48 punt returns in 2015, averaging 8.6 yards per return. In 134 career returns, he has a terrific average of 9.3 yards with one going for a touchdown.

When Kerley joined the Lions earlier this year, he said he takes a lot of pride in his ability as a punt returner. After setting an NFL record with 36 fair catches for the Jets in 2012 – a mark since broken – Kerley changed his approach and has averaged just more than 12 fair catches over the past three seasons. Now, he wants to be a game-changer when he fields punts.

“Any chance I get, I’m trying to score,” Kerley told the Detroit Free Press in March. “It’s a scorer’s mentality when you’ve got the ball in your hands, so that’s what I’m tryng to do.”

Kerley will have a chance to make his bid for a roster spot in the 49ers’ final exhibition game Thursday night against the Chargers.

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