Recently on Niners Live we’ve discussed: Why WR Jeremy Kerley Is Kyle Shanahan’s Best Version of Taylor Gabriel, and Will Kyle Shanahan Resurrect Torrey Smith’s Career? And now? We ask: Can Kyle Shanahan Bring out the Best in WR’s Deandre Smelter? And Aaron Burbridge?
As the offseason turns and the San Francisco 49ers look to solidify their new regime, a lot of questions still surround the immediate future. Many fans and experts alike are scrambling to their Big Boards to figure out where coach Kyle Shanahan will turn to compensate for the plethora of talent he has been accustomed to throughout his career and, most recently, with the NFC champion, the Atlanta Falcons. Finding talent to make up for the production Shanahan got from his Pro Bowl wide receiver Julio Jones last season will undoubtedly be one of Coach Shanahan’s monumental tasks. Let alone the slew of other artillery that was available at his disposal, Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel, and Aldrick Robinson.
Look for Kyle Shanahan, who has been focusing on free agency while General Manager John Lynch focuses on the draft, to add to his unit and competition pool to solidify the starting unit as well as add quality depth within wide receiving corps.
For now, let’s take a glance at what Shanahan does have to work with. Some lesser household names sure, but they are, never-the-less, primed for development. A good play caller ala Shanahan could bring out the best in their games, no doubt.
Who are those players, you ask?
Enter Deandre Smelter and what he brings to the table: Smelter, the 6’2, 226-pound specimen, a former Georgia Tech prospect, was red-shirted and didn’t see any NFL action his rookie season after the 49ers selected him in the 4th round. Smelter still has not reached his full potential, having only accounted for one reception on one target while appearing in two games in 2016. He is still an untapped resource. He has an 11-inch hand “Mug” size with a physical style of play to go with the perseverance of overcoming injuries, and he is a ferocious run-blocker as well as big play ability waiting to happen. This no doubt makes him an ideal candidate for Mr. Kyle Shanahan to bring out the best in him while maximizing his full potential. Smelter is a great competitor with high football intelligence that stands out from the crowd. (NFL.com).
He was considered a project when he began practicing with the 49ers during his first training camp. However, he never was healthy for a long enough time to develop and that continued in year two from a severe hamstring injury that warranted a release from the team and returns to the 49ers later in the 2016 season. If Shanahan can make the most out of a guy with similar skills sets/physical attributes as Sanu who’s 6’2″ and 215lbs had a career high in receptions in 2016 under Shanahan with 59, just think of the possibilities.
Next up, Aaron Burbridge:
The 6’0, 206 pound Aaron Burbridge was a 2015 Big-10 Receiver of the Year as well as first-team All-Big 10 (NFL.com). Burbridge led the conference in both receptions (85) and receiving yards (1,258). He is a possession type dependable receiver who will do all the dirty work of blocking and catching the ball in the middle. His willingness to match mono e mono against muggers throughout his route tree and show aggressiveness as a run blocker make him an asset on the field. His detailed route-running on double moves creates openings for big plays up top. Burbridge received limited opportunities in 2016, only getting 16 targets, resulting in seven receptions for 88 yards at 12.6 yards per catch. What good can this type of player have in Kyle Shanahans’ offense? Hold that thought.
How did two decorated 49er’ veteran receivers respond to Shanahans’ offensive minded presence, scheme, talent development, and big play potential?
Jeremy Kerley said of Shanahan “he does a good job of putting guys in position to be successful. Hopefully, when he gets over to San Fran he can do a lot of the same things. We Have a lot of good guys. (NFL.com).
Torey Smith also seems stoked about the possibilities. “It’s the way they scheme it up and put it together. The way I watch it from afar, (Shanahan) tailors it to people’s strengths, which is always a plus. So, I’m excited to see what his plan is for us.” (NFL.com).
The 6’3 and 210-pound Eric Rogers, who was signed by the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 2013, played two seasons in the CFL before being signed by the 49ers. Rogers will return this year after tearing his ACL and missing the entire 2016 season. In 2015, Rogers’ numbers were league-leading. He put up big numbers for the Calgary Stampeders leading the league with 1,448 receiving yards, was fourth with 87 receptions, and tied for the league lead with 10 receiving touchdowns.
“When the ball’s in the air, it’s mine,” Rogers explained. “I don’t like negative plays.” (49ers.com)
Could Rogers be as good a fit for Shanahan’s offense as he was projected to be for Chip Kelly? Great question. If he is fully healthy, he could be another missing piece to the puzzle and add another weapon to the arsenal at Kyle Shanahan’s disposal.
Can I leave you with this?
Kyle Shanahan was signed to a six-year deal to make the most of the young, underachieving talent on the roster and lead the 49ers back to the promise land of Championship Vince Lombardi Trophies. General Manager John Lynch said: There is some work here, “I don’t think it’s a 2-14 roster, though. I think it’s a little better than that.” (csnbayarea.com).
With all that said, and as discussed by Niners live recently, it seems inevitable that it will indeed take patience and realistic expectations to restore this unit. One could make a strong case that the 2-14 record was not solely the cause of a lack of talent. Where former head coach Chip Kelly failed to develop and utilize a players talent level to their individual strengths, will Kyle Shanahan succeed? Inquiring sports/49er fans/media and the world want to know.
Shanahan did himself say in his introduction as the 49ers new head coach that he needs to study films of the 49ers’ offensive players, and that’s at the top his to-do list. “Before we can consider any free agency, draft, you have to know what the players on your team can do. (Niners Live: Who will Kyle Shanahan turn to?) Will he go through this roster with a fine-tooth comb and get the best out of the talent available to him? Only time will tell. As always, keep your eyes wide open, 49er fans. Niners Live will be watching with you. #eyeswideopen and often imitated but never duplicated… Go Niners.
On a Niners live side note:
Bruce Ellington, at 5’9″ and 197 pounds, runs a 4.45 40-yard-dash time and with a 39.5″ vertical. He has the speed, agility, explosiveness, and elusiveness to make him an impact player on offense and special teams. Ellington’s teammates and coaches have spoken very highly of Ellington in the past and most notably Jimmie Ward, who has faced Ellington in practices in the past ( team’s website).
Ward talks about how Ellington is a very tough cover; he’s shifty, explosive and fast.
Health concerns? A major problem.
Ellington’s challenges the past few years have been: not being utilized properly, a lack of opportunities, his inability to stay healthy and on the field consistently which affects building continuity amongst the offense; and most importantly, the quarterback needs an added weapon on the field at all times. He’ll be a long shot to make it out of camp/pre-season as Lynch and Shanahan look to bolster this unit as aforementioned.
Welcome to Lyftlive.com.
All records, statistics, and accolades are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com, Pro Football Focus, 49ers.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com unless otherwise indicated. Author, Editor Niners Live. Co-Author, Irvin Johnson Staff Writer at Niners Live.