Finding an elite NFL slot receiver can be a brutal task. Slot wideouts are tasked with going across the middle consistently, while also being a safety valve for their quarterback. It’s not the ideal job for any playmaker, but it can result in big numbers for players who excel at it. The San Francisco 49ers are hoping they just found their slot receiver of the future, Trent Taylor.
Wes Welker will go down as one of the best slot receivers ever, and some of the best teams in the NFL have consistency and reliability at this position. In Week 13 for the 49ers, Taylor — a rookie fifth-round draft pick — looked the part of a very talented slot receiver in the team’s 15-14 win over the Chicago Bears.
Taylor was the definition of reliable in Jimmy Garoppolo’s first start for the 49ers, catching all six of his targets for 92 yards. When a quarterback steps in to make his first start in a new offense with an entirely new group of teammates, it can be tough, but Garoppolo leaned heavily on Marquise Goodwin (eight catches for 99 yards) and Taylor.
The latter has the typical size teams look for in a slot wideout. At 5-foot-8, 178 pounds, Taylor is quick enough to make defensive backs miss and can find space in small holes of the defense. While he was a fifth-round draft pick, that doesn’t fully explain the production he had at Louisiana Tech.
The young receiver had a solid sophomore season, catching 64 passes for 834 yards and nine touchdowns. His junior and senior seasons put him on the map. In 2015 — his third season on the field — he caught 99 passes for 1,282 yards and nine touchdowns. Then came the massive senior breakout year that grabbed a ton of attention.
In 2016, Taylor caught 136 passes for a ridiculous 1,803 yards and 12 touchdowns. It goes without saying that John Lynch was planning on targeting Taylor at some point in the draft, especially with the team’s need for offensive weapons.
While the 49ers landed the player who had over 4,100 receiving yards in college, he’s had a quiet, up-and-down start to his NFL career. While he had topped three catches in a game just three times all season, he had been reliable at the very least. On the year, he’s caught 32 of 46 targets for 331 yards and one touchdown.
Aside from seeing 10 targets against the Arizona Cardinals very early in the season, Taylor never received more than five targets from anyone under center. But the reliability that he showed in Garoppolo’s first game will go a long way. The new quarterback for the 49ers needs a safety valve, and I believe he just found him.
It’s never easy for a mid-to-late-round pick to make an immediate impact as a rookie, but Taylor has an opportunity to make a mark in December. At this very moment, it’s hard to argue that Taylor won’t consistently get better, and if he does he’ll unquestionably be the 49ers’ top option in the slot for many years to come.
The 49ers likely found another NFL Draft steal, this time on offense.
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