Ever since the 49ers blew their 2012 first-round pick on A.J. Jenkins, wide receivers routinely got ignored the first two days of each ensuing draft under then-general manager Trent Baalke.
The 49ers new regime of coach Kyle Shanahan and GM John Lynch addressed that neglected unit this spring in free agency, signing veterans Pierre Garcon, Marquise Goodwin and Aldrick Robinson. They also made room by releasing free-agent bust Torrey Smith.
By combining those newcomers with injury-concern holdovers Bruce Ellington, DeAndre Smelter and Eric Rogers, the 49ers could have a more respected unit, but still not a very threatening one. Nor a very tall one.
While Garcon plays bigger than his 6-foot height, the 49ers’ next-best options are in the similar 5-9 frames of Jeremy Kerley, Ellington and Goodwin, while Robinson is just 5-10. Rogers towers at 6-3 but is coming off knee reconstruction that cost him last season.
Big, potential No. 1 targets exist in this draft in Clemson’s Mike Williams (6-4) and Western Michigan’s Corey Davis (6-3).
The No. 2 overall draft pick, however, seems too high for this draft’s top wide receivers — Williams, Davis and Washington speedster John Ross. But if the 49ers trade down a few spots for more picks, a wide receiver would be a rational option for an offense that clearly needs to upgrade their passing attack.
With so many needs still on this roster, the 49ers could bypass this position with their top two picks (Nos. 2 and 34) but address it later. Unfortunately, that strategy didn’t pan out under Baalke, who selected only one wide receiver in each of his seven drafts and only Jenkins went above the fourth round.
The Top Five
1. Mike Williams, Clemson (6-4, 218) — Caught 98 passes for 1,361 yards and 11 touchdowns for the national champions, erasing concern of a neck injury that ended his 2015 season early. Excels on back shoulder fades, a favorite NFL route. Can win 50-50 balls and produce with physicality although not a straight-line burner.
2. Corey Davis, Western Michigan (6-3, 209) — Seeks to join Randy Moss (Marshall) as the only Mid-American Conference receivers to be drafted in the first round. Set an FBS career receiving record (5,285 yards) and had 52 touchdowns in 50 games. Concerns include dominating with physicality against inferior competition and too many dropped passes.
3. John Ross, Washington (5-11, 188) — Ross’ 4.22 40-yard dash was the talk of the combine and so fast he could be overdrafted. But keep in mind Ross wasn’t all speed with no production, catching 81 passes for 1,150 yards and a Pac-12 best 17 touchdowns. Still a developing receiver, with only one full year at position after switching from cornerback.
4. Curtis Samuel, Ohio State (5-11, 196) — Hybrid runner/receiver at Ohio State could translate to a slot receiver at the next level. Similar in some respects to Christian McCaffrey although less likely to be a running back. Had 74 catches for 865 yards as a junior and rushed for 771 yards. Has shown ability to catch ball in a crowd.
5. Cooper Kupp, Eastern Washington (6-2, 204) — Couldn’t catch the eye of any FBS programs out of high school, but his dominance of the Big Sky Conference has him as a second-day NFL pick. Even though he missed some playing time, Kupp had 117 catches for 1,700 yards. Played in spread scheme, but innate ability to get open is expected to translate.
Keep an eye on: Chad Hansen, Cal (6-2, 202) — Idaho State transfer blossomed at Cal, catching 92 passes for 1,249 yards and 11 touchdowns as a senior despite missing two games due to injury. Finished fourth in the nation with 23 receptions of 20 yards or more. A natural at tracking the ball and making adjustments, making it look easy.
Others: Chris Godwin, Penn State (6-1, 209), ArDarius Stewart, Alabama (5-11, 204), Zay Jones, East Carolina (6-2, 201), Carlos Henderson, Louisiana Tech (5-11, 199), JuJu Smith-Schuster, USC (6-1, 215).
Depth chart: Pierre Garcon (6-0, 211), Jeremy Kerley (5-9, 188), Marquise Goodwin (5-9, 179), Bruce Ellington (5-9, 197), Aldrick Robinson (5-10, 187), Aaron Burbridge (6-1, 208) , Chris Harper (5-11, 185), Eric Rogers (6-3, 210), DeAndre Smelter (6-2, 227), DeAndre Carter (5-8, 190), Rashad Ross (6-0, 180),
Last five drafted: Aaron Burbridge (sixth round, Michigan, 2016), DeAndre Smelter (fourth round, Georgia Tech, 2015), Bruce Ellington (fourth round, South Carolina, 2014), Quinton Patton (fourth round, Lousiana Tech, 2013), A.J. Jenkins (first round, Illinois, 2012).