The San Francisco 49ers had always been known for having deep and productive receiving corps. That was until Michael Crabtree and then Anquan Boldin were allowed to walk away in free agency in back-to-back offseasons. Their departures left a huge void not only on the field, but also in the locker room. The team was left with a slew of unproven pass-catchers led by Torrey Smith, who in reality is a number two WR. With Bruce Ellington going down in the preseason with a torn ACL, it became apparent they needed more talent at the WR position. The team traded incumbent OL Brandon Thomas to the Lions for WR Jeremy Kerley. While Thomas did not make the final 53-man roster in Detroit, Jeremy Kerley led the 49ers in receiving.
Even though Kerley was a pleasant revelation with 64 receptions for 667 yards and 3 scores, that is far from the numbers you want from your leading wideout.
Enter John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan.
The pair wasted no time in beginning to fill the leadership and production void at the receiver position by signing 30 year-old free agent Pierre Garçon. Garçon played for Shanahan in Washington and enjoyed a career-year under him in 2013. That season Garçon caught 113 passes for 1,346 yards and five scores. Those are eye-popping numbers to the 49ers. Clearly, Garçon was a perfect fit for Shanahan’s offense and vice-versa.
I believe it would be foolish to expect Garçon to replicate his 2013 numbers in 2017. He will be four years removed from his career year and is now on the wrong side of thirty. His foot speed is not the same and he will not be surrounded by the same level of talent he was in Washington. However, I am convinced he will prove to be a stabilizing presence, both on and off the field. He will be a powerful teaching partner for Shanahan and his staff as he is well versed in the concepts they will employ on offense. More importantly, he will lead the receiver room and set the example for the younger wideouts to follow.
Let’s go over a quick summary of Garçon’s strengths and weaknesses as we look forward to him being strapping up the helmet for the 49ers.
Plays “angry” and with extreme physical toughness. Garçon is as physical and sturdy as they come at the receiver position. He can take a hit and keep going. Adept at making contested catches. He is at his best while tracking the ball and catching it in traffic.
Possesses some of the best hands in the NFL. Rarely drops a pass thrown his way. Tracks the ball and looks it all the way in before securing it and turning to run.
Outstanding balance and body control. Rarely finds himself out of position or equilibrium when making catches.
Premier run-blocking wide receiver. Completely unafraid to get his hands dirty in the running game and make tough blocks to open up lanes for his running backs.
Leads by example. He is a man of few words but he allows his work ethic and dedication speak for itself.
Has lost a step. Although he ran a 4.48 40-yard dash at the combine, that was nine years ago. His speed is evidently not what it once was.
As I mentioned before, he is a sure-handed receiver nine times out of ten. Every so often, he suffers from lapses in concentration and drops very catchable balls.
Has never had more than six touchdowns in a season. It would be unfair to expect him to break his career-high.
All in all, the addition of Pierre Garçon will prove to be a valuable one. Again, he is well-versed in Shanahan’s system and he is a proven leader on and off the field. Something this team has been sorely lacking, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Some pundits say he was overpaid. However, the 49ers have tons of cap room and they need players. I am 100% fine with them overpaying for solid players while they try to build the foundation for the future.
My main concern, as it was with Torrey Smith, is that the 49ers might try to turn Garçon into a number one wideout. While Pierre is definitely the most talented wide receiver currently on the roster, I am hesitant in saying he can be a clear-cut number one. I think Garçon is at his best while surrounded by a solid cast and not having to take on the defense’s attention alone. Shanahan’s ability to scheme people open will help with some of that. Regardless, eventually (hopefully soon) the team has to find a true number one receiver…maybe even in this year’s draft they will hit the jackpot.
Stay tuned for the next part in our 49ers free agency series!