In Atlanta, Kyle Shanahan was the architect of the NFL’s most potent offense this past season. The Falcons were blessed with a gifted quarterback, a dynamic duo of running backs and fine wide receivers.
As every 49ers fan knows, however, San Francisco has few proven playmakers.
One of the biggest areas of concern is at wide receiver, where Jeremy Kerley and Quinton Patton were the top two pass catchers and Torrey Smith – a bonafide deep threat in past seasons with the Ravens – was largely ignored.
As Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee wrote this week, “The 49ers can’t expect big gains out of the quarterback position unless they do something at wide receiver.”
So what will the Niners do to upgrade the position?
Chances are, new general manager John Lynch and head coach Shanahan will have to find three or four wideouts through the draft and free agency. Among the free agents possibly available will be former Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who had a 1,000-yard receiving year in Cleveland in 2016, Alshon Jeffery of Chicago, Kenny Britt of Tennessee and Pierre Garcon of Washington.
Barrows notes Garcon could be a target, because he played with Shanahan in Washington.
Jeffery is a big-time playmaker, is a tall target at 6-foot-4 and is just 27, but he’d come with a hefty price tag. He’s missed 11 games combined the past two seasons but is highly productive when healthy, and has averaged 15 yards per catch over his five-year pro career. If the Bears decide to apply the franchise tag to Jeffery again this offseason, they’d have to pay him about $17.5 million for 2017. If he goes to free agency, it would likely cost a team $12 million to $13 million per year.
Among college wideouts available in the draft, Mike Williams of Clemson and Corey Davis of Western Michigan are both big, productive targets (each is 6-foot-3) likely to go in the first round. Barrows also points to second-round talents such as JuJu Smith Schuster of USC and Zay Jones of East Carolina as possible targets if the 49ers were to draft a quarterback or another position player in the first round.
Torrey Smith, for one, believes Shanahan’s wide receivers – whoever they may be – will have many more opportunities in 2017 than 2016.
Smith told the media recently that he likes what he’s seen of Shanahan’s offensive schemes, because he “tailors (the offense) to people’s strengths.”
“I’m so excited to see what his plan is for us,” said Smith.