The San Francisco 49ers are in the market for a playmaker at wide receiver.
They were major players in the Odell Beckham Jr. sweepstakes, and clearly understand the need to find an upgrade at a position that they are now unlikely to target until day two of the draft.
With their top pick set to be spent on defense, which receivers who could be available on day two make sense for the Niners?
Here are five prospects who would be strong fits.
5. Marquise Brown – Oklahoma
There are reasons for concern about ‘Hollywood’ Brown, who is just 5’9″ and 166 pounds and is coming off Lisfranc surgery on his foot, but there is also much to suggest he can live up to his moniker and ascend to stardom, particularly when paired with a coordinator as creative as Kyle Shanahan.
Brown is an outstanding downfield threat who has the elite speed to get over the top of defenses almost at will. He has an extra gear in his locker which, combined with his agility, stop-start quickness and contact balance, makes him an extremely dangerous weapon after the catch.
His frame may be seen as a worry in a Shanahan scheme in which an ability to go over the middle is imperative.
However, he has demonstrated an ability to alter his route depth to avoid traffic on crossing routes, while his lower-body flexibility and success at creating separation with his stems and executing double moves should leave little doubt he is capable of running a full route tree.
An impressive ball tracker who can hold his own in contested catch situations despite his size, Brown has the skill set to thrive in the pros regardless of his physical makeup.
Shanahan’s offense is the ideal scheme in which to silence his critics.
4. Deebo Samuel – South Carolina
Perhaps the prototype Shanahan receiver, Samuel relies on his well-rounded approach to route-running – rather than speed – to create separation.
He excels at using jab steps to open the hips of defenders and gain leverage and is able to gear down and draw safeties up on double moves to get in behind defenses.
Having succeeded against press coverage by swiping away attempted jams from defenders, Samuel should not be overawed by physical corners and has the versatility to operate on the outside and in the slot.
Boasting the body control to make difficult sideline catches and get both feet in bounds, Samuel is a do-it-all talent who used his open-field ability to average 9.5 yards after the catch per reception in 2018, per Pro Football Focus.
With a 215-pound frame that should stand up to the rigors of going over the middle, the Niners should be high on a receiver they got to examine closely at the Senior Bowl.
3. Riley Ridley – Georgia
Like his brother Calvin, Ridley did not impress in athletic testing and, just as that had no influence on his sibling’s success as a rookie, it should not stop the former Bulldog from making an impact in the pros.
Ridley is a ‘trust the tape’ prospect who has done enough on the field for his supposed physical deficiencies to be put aside. He is a polished receiver who plays a lot faster than he ran, wins consistently at the top of the route and pulls off double moves that leave defenders on the turf with startling regularity.
An outstanding catcher of the football, Ridley can go up and make highlight-reel catches by using the same body control that enables him to avoid contact from press corners and take advantage of their aggressiveness.
Ridley is as pro-ready as any receiver in this class and his technical proficiency as a route-runner is something Shanahan values highly.
The 49ers head coach will care little about his athletic testing should he land in San Francisco and contribute immediately.
2. A.J. Brown – Ole Miss
Many feel Brown, and not DK Metcalf, is the top Ole Miss receiver in the class. At 6’0″ and 225 pounds with 4.49 speed, there is plenty of reason to believe he could thrive for the Niners.
Deployed on the perimeter and in the slot, Brown has won plenty of admirers with his aptitude after the catch, his elusiveness and acceleration in the open field and his contact balance seeing him rack up 50 forced missed tackles on 188 receptions in his college career and 33 explosive plays in 2018, per PFF.
Unable to create separation purely with raw speed and inconsistent when going against physical corners, Brown will have to rely on his footwork and develop more of a plan for facing press if he is to get himself in position to make such plays at the next level.
However, he is unafraid to use his own physicality to his advantage when working over the middle and is a reliable catcher of the football – he averaged a drop once every 14.4 catchable targets according to PFF – who has had success making tough contested grabs close to the sideline.
Talk of Brown as a first-round pick has grown but, if he makes it to day two, he should be a priority target for San Francisco.
1. N’Keal Harry – Arizona State
The Niners have long lacked a game-changing receiver with size and, though some have pegged him as more of a big slot, Harry could be the man to fill the void.
At 6’2″ and 228 pounds, Harry does a superb job of tracking the football and is a dominant force at the catch point who can make NFL-level grabs near the boundary. Far from one-dimensional, Harry can also string together multiple cuts with the ball in his hands, with an impressive spin move forming part of his repertoire.
While Harry has shown he can take short passes the distance, he is not a speedster and may have more of a learning curve as a route-runner having been used primarily on screens and downfield routes at Arizona State.
Yet there is no question Harry has the foot speed to win consistently at the line of scrimmage and, with plenty of evidence of him defeating press coverage with his hand usage and creating separation with double moves, it would be well worth the Niners betting he can build on those flashes by finally taking a receiver with huge physical upside.