Chris Finke has faced long odds before. He was a walk-on at Notre Dame and had to earn both a roster spot and, eventually, a scholarship while also becoming a team co-captain.
The wide receiver and return specialist also earned a fine nickname with the Fighting Irish: “Slippery Fox.”
Now Finke, an undrafted free agent, hopes to beat the odds again to make the 49ers roster for the 2020 season.
Finke is just 5-foot-9 and 186 pounds, but he was incredibly productive at Notre Dame. As a receiver he caught 50 passes over the past two seasons for 1,027 yards and six touchdowns. As a punt returner over four years, he had 73 returns for 602 yards and an 8.2-yard average.
With Richie James – the 49ers’ top punt returner of 2019 – now out with an injury possibly through the start of the season, the door is more open for Finke to earn a spot on the roster or reserve squad in training camp.
Certainly, Finke has proved he can prove doubters wrong. Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chip Long told the Indianapolis Star that Finke put in the work to get bigger after a freshman season when he realized he wasn’t strong enough.
“(He) attacked the weight room,” Long said in August of 2019. “Had a great year for us (in 2018) when we relied heavily on him. He’s done a great job of being a leader for us offensively in that receiver room.”
Finke was powered in part by the need to prove others wrong. When he told friends and family that he wanted to walk on at Notre Dame, many scoffed. So, he kept what he called his “Doubters List” of those who said he couldn’t do it, including what they said, he told Mike Berardino of the Star.
Though Finke goes into the 49ers camp buried on the depth chart, Kyle Posey of SB Nation noted this spring that San Francisco believes he has potential. The team gave him $95,000 guaranteed after Finke had the second-quickest 10-yard splits at the NFL Combine.
Matt Clark of the website Fansided pointed out Finke has been compared to Hunter Renfrow, who had a solid rookie year for the Raiders in 2019, and to some of the small, overlooked receivers who succeeded in the Patriots system, such as Danny Amendola, Danny Woodhead, Chris Hogan and Julian Edelman.
Though Finke is a long shot, Clark said before the draft he believed Finke can earn an NFL job.
Wrote Clark: “It isn’t difficult to see Chris Finke beginning as a depth piece at wide receiver and special teams contributor as he learns the system. But much like when he was a walk-on at Notre Dame, Finke will likely end up being a solid player for whichever NFL team ultimately selects him.”