You know your team’s had the Grendel’s-mother of terrible offseasons when it loses its third-best wide receiver for six games and the news hardly registers among fans. Backers of the 49ers have grown numb to crummy news because, after all, losing wideout Jerome Simpson for three-eighths of the season is not nearly as bad as losing Anthony Davis for at least a year or Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis, Justin Smith and Chris Borland for good.
Still, Simpson’s suspension, the third of his career, should make fans wonder what the 49ers are thinking at wide receiver. When teams lose a veteran receiver, the next thought usually is, “Well, at least that gives draft pick (fill in a name) a chance to develop.”
The 49ers’ lone draft pick at the position is DeAndre Smelter, who tore his ACL on Nov. 29 and has been rehabilitating on a side field while his 49ers teammates practice. Smelter will start the season on the non-football-injury list and there’s a good chance he won’t play his rookie season, which probably is best for his career.
The 49ers have other young wideouts. Quinton Patton, Bruce Ellington and DeAndrew White are perhaps the most promising, and all three will get an abundance of opportunities to make a splash over the next three weeks. Perhaps one or more will step forward.
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But the 49ers could have increased those odds by taking advantage of the last two drafts, which were deep in wide receivers. Instead, general manager Trent Baalke waited until the fourth round each year, selecting Ellington in 2014 and Smelter in May.
Before the draft, Baalke said he didn’t feel pressured to take any particular position, including wide receiver, in part because he liked what he saw in Simpson.
“Once again, how many guys can play? How many balls are there?” Baalke said in April. “Torrey (Smith is) going to be on the field. Anquan (Boldin) is going to be on the field. Simpson looks extremely good … early in the process and has been a very solid receiver. His last year in Minnesota, (he had) 40-plus catches, 700-plus yards. Did a very nice job.”
On Monday, the day the NFL announced Simpson’s suspension, the message from the 49ers and Baalke was that they weren’t surprised by the ruling and knew when they signed Simpson there was a probability he’d be suspended.
But if they knew a suspension was looming when Simpson was signed in March, why not bulk up on the position in April and May?
Will 49ers let Hayne get away?
San Francisco’s coaches are trying hard to tamp down the hype surrounding Jarryd Hayne, pointing out there are 21/2 weeks before decisions need to made about final roster spots. But could the 49ers possibly cut Hayne after what he did Saturday in Houston?
Early in training camp, Hayne seemed destined for the practice squad. He’s the epitome of a practice-squad guy – someone with potential who needs refinement.
But to put Hayne on the practice squad, the 49ers would have to waive him. And that gives 31 other teams a chance to pick him up. Yes, Hayne is raw. But his explosion and instincts Saturday were so obvious and arresting that it’s hard to think no other team would snap him up.
2014 draft class in spotlight
The 49ers had an unbelievable number of defections this offseason, but they seemed to have a promising young player – or two or three – ready to step in.
For example, two 2014 draft picks, Marcus Martin and Brandon Thomas, are ostensibly competing for the starting spot at right guard. Martin continues to get most of the snaps there and appears to be the favorite to start in Week 1.
Another battle may be shaping up at cornerback. Shareece Wright started last week. He’s a veteran, so the 49ers know what to expect from him. Keith Reaser is more of a mystery – and an intriguing one.
Reaser, who spent his rookie season last year recovering from a knee operation, has been getting plenty of snaps with the first-team defense in practice and could start Sunday against the Cowboys. He, Dontae Johnson and Kenneth Acker all are members of the 2014 draft class and are among the top five corners on the team.
They say it takes three years to really analyze a draft class. We should find out about Baalke’s 2014 class much sooner than that.
Speaking of draft classes …
Baalke already has nine picks lined up in the 2017 draft after dealing tight end Derek Carrier to Washington on Friday. Why is he asking for compensation in 2017? Because he already is expecting 12 picks in the upcoming draft.