Yet again, the NFC West appears to be one of the toughest divisions in the NFL heading into the 2020 season. Each club made efforts to bolster their respective rosters this offseason to counteract some of the tough matchups throughout the division.
One of the biggest storylines this offseason was DeAndre Hopkins’ addition to the NFC West in a trade between the Houston Texans that sent the All-Pro receiver to the Arizona Cardinals. Hopkins’ arrival only added more intrigue (and competition) to a division that sits near the top of the league in pass-catching talent.
CBS Sports’ Jared Dublin ranked all eight NFL divisions by the strength of their receiving corps. The NFC West landed at No. 2 on his list behind an NFC South division that boasts a stockpile of wideouts that include Julio Jones, Michael Thomas, Mike Evans and former 49ers pass catcher Emmanuel Sanders.
Following the loss of Sanders in free agency, Deebo Samuel was set to have a breakout season in Year 2 under Kyle Shanahan. San Francisco confirmed last month, the receiver suffered a Jones fracture on his left foot and is expected to miss 12-16 weeks. Shortly after, the confirmed fellow wide receiver and returner Richie James Jr. suffered a broken right wrist while training this summer.
According to a team representative, the 49ers will have a better idea on Samuel and James Jr.’s timetable for return once the club reports to training camp on July 28.
If either wideout’s injury lingers into the regular season, the 49ers are likely to rely on Kendrick Bourne and first-round pick Brandon Aiyuk to help carry the load. The 49ers are also expecting Trent Taylor (foot) and Jalen Hurd (back) to return after both missing the entire 2019 campaign due to injury and added veteran talent in Travis Benjamin this offseason.
According to Dublin, “the injury to Samuel is a major bummer. He was going to break out this year. The 49ers don’t have anyone else of his caliber but Aiyuk is a terrific fit for their offense, Bourne is dependable scheme-wise, and Hurd has a ton of versatility.”
Here’s a look at the NFC West wideouts:
49ers: (Deebo Samuel), Brandon Aiyuk, Kendrick Bourne, Jalen Hurd
Cardinals: DeAndre Hopkins, Christian Kirk, Larry Fitzgerald
Rams: Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Josh Reynolds
Seahawks: Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf, Phillip Dorsett
As for the rest of the NFC West: “The Hopkins trade was an absolute heist. Ridiculous,” Dublin continued. “Kirk is a good fit for Kyler Murray and should get back to working the underneath areas of the field this year. Fitz could catch 100 passes in his sleep, probably.
“Woods is one of the most underrated players in the league, and a borderline top-10 guy. Kupp is just about as good as Woods. Reynolds looked fine as the No. 3 guy when Kupp got injured a couple years ago and should be fine in the role this year. Lockett is one of those guys who I would just love to see with big volume, but the Seahawks refuse to run an offense that isn’t from 1992. Metcalf quietly out-targeted Lockett last season and diversified his route tree as the season went along. He’s a monster.”