The 49ers will be without Jerome Simpson, perhaps the front-runner to be their No. 3 wide receiver, for the first six weeks of the season while he serves a suspension. But Colin Kaepernick said Wednesday there are plenty of candidates for the role.
“We’ve had a lot of reps with guys other than Torrey (Smith), Jerome and Anquan (Boldin),” the quarterback said. “So moving forward, it’s not something we’re shying away from or uncomfortable with. We have people who have proven to us that they can go out and be good football players for us.”
Although it’s true the team has plenty of bodies at the position, it lacks much experience.
The most seasoned candidate is Quinton Patton, a fourth-round pick in 2013. Patton appeared in six games as a rookie and was inactive for most of last season. He has caught eight passes in that span, including the playoffs, and has yet to score.
One advantage: He’s among Kaepernick’s closest friends on the team and has spent the last two offseasons training with him.
5 49ers tight ends who caught passes Saturday against Houston
“I have great trust in him, as a person, as a football player,” Kaepernick said of Patton. “He’s someone that is constantly learning, constantly talking to me about what I’m looking at. And I think that’s really helped our chemistry on the field and his development being a reliable receiver.”
Another option is Bruce Ellington, a 2014 draft pick who came on strong at the end of his rookie season.
Ellington’s Week 16 game against San Diego, in which he scored both a rushing and receiving touchdown while lined up in the backfield, underscored his skill set. The 49ers could look at him as a quasi running back-receiver in the way Green Bay uses Randall Cobb.
Ellington, however, has missed the past two weeks of practice because of a muscle strain after sitting out a chunk of time in the spring with another injury. He likely won’t play Sunday against Dallas.
The long-shot candidate is undrafted rookie DeAndrew White. Like Simpson, White can stretch the field, and the 49ers hope to throw more deep passes this season.
Kaepernick attempted that kind of play early in Saturday’s exhibition loss to Houston, but the ball landed just out of Smith’s reach. The quarterback, however, said it was a valuable play early in the exhibition season because he and Smith, the team’s fastest wideout, can use it to refine their connection on deep patterns.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to be able to talk about it and really work on the fine details of where we want to be hitting that throw and how we want to go about doing those plays,” Kaepernick said. “That gave us a good foundation to start.”
Another fallback for the 49ers while Simpson serves his suspension is their abundance of tight ends.
I have great trust in him, as a person, as a football player.
49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick on wide receiver Quinton Patton
The 49ers traded Asante Cleveland to New England on Tuesday but still have seven tight ends on the roster. They could keep as many as four when the regular season begins, with the favorites being Vernon Davis, Vance McDonald, Blake Bell and Derek Carrier.
Under former coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman last year, the team turned away from its tight ends in favor of a more wide receiver-heavy attack. This year, the 49ers seem poised to return to the position, and multiple tight end sets have been prevalent.
For example, five of the eight 49ers who caught passes Saturday were tight ends, including Garrett Celek, who scored the team’s only touchdown.