San Francisco 49ers
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49ers getting look at young receivers
San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan appeared to make a nice gesture this week when he promoted wideout Steven Dunbar Jr. to the active roster for the final game of the season, allowing the undrafted rookie to earn a game check rather than just another week of practice-squad wages.
Only one problem: This was no gesture. Such is the state of the 49ers' receiving corps that Dunbar, exposed to the whole league when he was waived Sept. 1, is expected to get playing time when the club finishes in Angeles against the Rams.
"Being on the practice squad all year, he's been up with the game plan every single week," Shanahan explained. "He knows all the spots from a mental standpoint. We could have plugged him in on a Saturday and he would've always known the game plan.
"And his skill-set. He's gotten better throughout the year. He's got real good hands, runs hard. He's a big guy. Excited for him to get an opportunity."
No doubt, the 49ers, who currently sit in the No. 2 draft position, would have to consider a wide receiver if, say, a Calvin Johnson, Sammy Watkins, A.J. Green or Amari Cooper were available in April.
That quartet comprises the last four wideouts to go fourth or higher in the draft. 49ers fans dream of the days when Jimmy Garoppolo is handing off to Jerick McKinnon and throwing to a Calvin Johnson-type, rather than handing to Jeff Wilson Jr. and throwing to Dunbar.
If nothing else, Shanahan has gotten a look at his corps of wideouts this season, with the top two at the start of the season Pierre Garcon and Marquise Goodwin having been hurt much of the season.
Garcon almost surely won't be back next season, meaning the team probably will find itself in the market for a possession-type receiver in the offseason.
Goodwin came on strong at the end of last season, and rookie Dante Pettis has done the same this year. It's possible both will have prominent roles next season, with Goodwin already having been moved to a slot position at times to see how compatible he might be with the speedy Pettis.
Kendrick Bourne would be first in line to replace Garcon if no one is added, but he hasn't made the most of his opportunity this season, catching just 37 balls in 15 games (seven starts).
Likewise, Trent Taylor has been such a disappointment as a wideout (23 catches), he's gotten just 37 targets despite being generally healthy all season.
Richie James, Victor Bolden and now Dunbar ... no doubt their numbers will get called this week with Garcon and Pettis out, and Goodwin questionable at best.
Unfortunately for the 49ers, no wide receiver stands out among the 2019 draft crop. It's likely they will wait until the second round, if not later, to identify the guy who, barring a big-time free-agent pickup, will compete for a starting position next season.
Rest assured, 49ers scouts will be watching the BCS semifinals in hopes that, indeed, Oklahoma's Marquise Brown is good enough to dominate the vaunted Alabama defense and prove he's, as some say, the next T.Y. Hilton.
For now, the ball's in Dunbar's hands.
SERIES HISTORY: 138th regular-season meeting. 49ers lead series, 68-66-3. The road team has won the last four meetings, including the Rams' 39-10 thrashing of the 49ers at Levi's Stadium in Week 7 and both head-to-heads last season, when the 49ers won 34-13 at Los Angeles in Week 17. The 49ers have won the only playoff game in the rivalry's history 30-3 at home in the 1990 NFC Championship Game.