Jeremy Kerley is a rare specimen on San Francisco’s roster – a 49ers would-be free agent the incoming regime decided to retain.
Why? Kerley not only led the team in receptions and receiving yards last season, he received a boost from a prominent teammate before the free-agency period began.
“I won’t name a name, but there was a guy on this squad that I talked to that was here who just said, ‘He’s a pro,’ ” wide receivers coach Mike LaFleur said. “… And he couldn’t be more right. I talked to that guy (recently) and I said, ‘You couldn’t have been more right. He is a pro.’ He goes about his day, he’s always on his (assignments), he knows the details of what we’re trying to do and he’s out there making plays.”
It turns out that Kerley’s recommendation came from the longest tenured 49er, Joe Staley. The left tackle hinted at his behind-the-scenes work with a tweet on March 4, the day Kerley’s three-year contract extension was announced.
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“So pumped that Kerley has signed back with the 49ers,” Staley wrote. “He is a great teammate and will be a big reason why we turn the team around!!”
Of the 22 players on the 49ers 2016 roster who became free agents in March, only Kerley and defensive lineman Chris Jones, who signed a one-year deal on March 16, are still with the team. Jones has a background with position coach Jeff Zgonina, who was on the Houston Texans staff when that team drafted him in 2013.
Kerley has no background with any of his coaches. He arrived in San Francisco via a trade two weeks before the start of the season last year, then led the 49ers in catches and receiving yards in their Week 1 home win over the Los Angeles Rams.
Kerley also is one of the few receivers left over from last season, a year in which the 49ers finished last in the league in receiving yards. The only others that were here last year are Aaron Burbridge, DeAndre Smelter and Bruce Ellington, who has yet to take part in a spring practice because of soft tissue injury.
Like last year, Kerley mainly is lining up as a slot receiver, although LaFleur noted that all of the receivers must know various positions depending on the play call.
The first time the first-string group lined up last week, Pierre Garcon, Marquise Goodwin and Kerley were the receivers. Draft pick Trent Taylor has been playing behind Kerley in the slot, and Kerley has not been stingy about sharing information with the rookie.
“There’s a lot of times I’ll be going up to Trent to tell him something and (Kerley) kind of pulls him back and he says, ‘I got him.’ ” LaFeur said. “… He’s been awesome to work with.”