Where 49ers fall on Barnwell's skill position group ranking


The 49ers' offense is riddled with talent and has the potential to be one of the more explosive units in the league. 

With wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, tight end George Kittle and running back Elijah Mitchell, San Francisco has four playmakers who have the potential to surpass 1,000 yards either on the ground or through the air this season. 

Their success hinges on the development of second-year quarterback Trey Lance, who will take over as the starter under center this season. ESPN's Bill Barnwell, however, already is high on the 49ers' skill position players, ranking the unit as the third-best in the NFL heading into training camp. 

3. San Francisco 49ers

2021 rank: 12 | 2020 rank: 18

"Deebo Samuel just finished one of the most unique seasons in NFL history, leading the league in yards per catch (18.2), racking up 1,405 receiving yards and scoring 14 touchdowns, including eight on the ground," Barnwell writes.  

"He isn't the only option for new quarterback Trey Lance. George Kittle has been limited by injury from approaching the 1,377-yard season he posted in 2019, but the star tight end remains devastating on a per-snap basis. Kittle ranked third in yards per route run and second in target rate among tight ends a year ago, but injuries and blocking responsibilities limited him to 366 routes, about two-thirds of Mark Andrews' 544."

"A rookie back also emerged as a valuable contributor, but it wasn't the one most expected. Third-round pick Trey Sermon quickly landed in Kyle Shanahan's doghouse and was used only in case of emergency, while sixth-rounder Elijah Mitchell eventually took over the primary role. The 49ers added more rookie playmakers again in 2022, using third-round selections on halfback Tyrion Davis-Price and wide receiver Danny Gray. They can be anything from superstars to utterly unplayable, given Shanahan's history with rookies."

"Brandon Aiyuk already knows how fickle Shanahan can be with his offensive talent. Tipped to break out in 2021, the wideout was shockingly on the bench as a part-time player for most of September before working his way back into a starting role. Prorate Aiyuk's performance from Week 8 on over an entire season, and you get the sort of year most expected, with 73 catches for 1,128 receiving yards and six scores. Samuel went from promising wideout to superstar in Year 3. Can Aiyuk follow in his footsteps?"

RELATED: 49ers aligned on future of franchise as Trey Lance era begins

Fortunately for the 49ers, Lance already has a rapport with each of his skill position players. He played in six total games last season, started two of them, and continued to develop relationships with each of his teammates throughout the offseason as he embraced the QB1 role and established himself as a leader on the team. 

Whether or not that translates to on-field success remains to be seen, but San Francisco should feel good about the offense's potential heading into training camp. 

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