2021 NFL Draft: 49ers' next QB would benefit from solid slot receiver

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Matt Maiocco
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49ers' next QB would benefit from skilled slot receiver originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

Regardless of which quarterback the 49ers select with the No. 3 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, he can use some help.

One of the missing pieces of the 49ers’ offense in recent seasons has been the presence of a reliable slot receiver.

And that does not make a lot of sense, considering 49ers receivers coach Wes Welker, a five-time Pro Bowl player, was one of the best to play that role during his time as an NFL player.

During Day 2 of the draft, the 49ers are likely to be in the market for a quick pitch-and-catch target to team up with the team's new quarterback over the coming seasons.

The “choice route” is a favorite of coach Kyle Shanahan because it is almost impossible to defend when executed properly.

When facing man coverage, a receiver runs at the defender like a point guard breaking down the player guarding him. The receiver chooses whether to break inside or outside, depending on the positioning of the defender and which way he is leaning.

The quarterback can lock onto the receiver and unload the pass once the receiver makes his choice.

With a receiver who has loose hips and short-area quickness, it should be an easy completion with a quick and accurate throw, as well as a lot of chemistry between passer and pass-catcher.

That play can be particularly effective against a blitz or on third-down situations.

The 49ers could look to solve their issues at slot receiver on Day 2 of the draft. Here are six players who could be available from the second through fourth rounds:

Kadarius Toney

College: Florida

Height: 6-foot Weight: 193 pounds

Toney was plagued by shoulder injuries throughout his four-year college career. He fits the mold of the Shanahan-style receiver with versatility to line up at different spots, including taking handoffs on jet sweeps. In 11 games in 2020, Toney caught 70 passes for 984 yards and 10 touchdowns, while also rushing 19 times for 161 yards and a touchdown. His rubbery running style makes him perfect for setting up defenders with choice routes.

Elijah Moore

College: Ole Miss

Height: 5-foot-9 1/2 Weight: 178 pounds

Moore had an incredible shortened season in 2020. In eight games, he caught 86 passes for 1,193 yards and eight touchdowns. He has great hands and the courage to catch passes in traffic. That is a must for a slot receiver, who cannot be timid about breaking off his routes over the middle and, potentially, straight into much-larger inside linebackers.

Rondale Moore

College: Purdue

Height: 5-foot-7 Weight: 181 pounds

His size is an issue, but he would not be an every-down player for the 49ers because of Shanahan’s affinity for two-back personnel groupings. Moore is a speedster who blasted onto the scene as a freshman with 114 catches for 1,258 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2018. He was limited during his final two seasons due to hamstring injuries, which could cause his draft stock to fall. He is especially good on quick-developing routes in which he gets the ball in his hands and can turn in some major yards after the catch.

RELATED: Schefter says 49ers would draft Jones today, but keeping open mind

Amari Rodgers

College: Clemson

Height: 5-foot-9 1/2 Weight: 212 pounds

Rodgers could be a perfect fit for the 49ers because of his route-running, attention to detail and ability to return punts. He crushed it as a senior with 77 receptions for 1,020 yards and seven touchdowns. His body type and running style is similar to Deebo Samuel, but he is best-suited to line up in the slot. He is powerfully built and would be a tough cover for most NFL nickel backs.

D’Wayne Eskridge

College: Western Michigan

Height: 5-foot-9 Weight: 190 pounds

One longtime NFL scout told NBC Sports Bay Area that he thought Eskridge would be a steal for some team in the fourth round. However, after an impressive week of practices at the Senior Bowl, that same scout said he would not be surprised to see Eskridge fly off the board in the second round. He is a burner. Eskridge, 24, played 45 games over five college seasons. He was granted a redshirt year in 2019 due to a fractured collarbone. He appeared in six games in 2020, catching 34 passes for 784 yards and eight touchdowns. He also adds a lot of value as a kick returner.

Cade Johnson

College: South Dakota State

Height: 5-foot-10 1/2 Weight: 184 pounds

There is not a lot to go on with Johnson, so it’s a wild guess where he might be selected in the draft. After all, the South Dakota State fall football season was canceled. He has not played since the 2019 season. Over his final two college seasons, he caught 139 passes for 2,554 yards and 25 touchdowns. He would be expected to step in and make an immediate contribution as a slot receiver.

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