After reportedly working out a trio of receivers and quarterback Luke Falk, the San Francisco 49ers have added two new weapons.
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the 49ers have decided to move forward with former Dallas Cowboys receiver Tavon Austin as well as former Arizona Cardinal J.J. Nelson, bolstering the team’s receiving group ahead of the 2020 season.
As Schefter mentions, sophomore receiver Deebo Samuel is still recovering from a jones fracture he suffered this past June, the same injury that kept Trent Taylor on the sidelines for the entire 2019 season.
There’s a real chance that one or both receivers don’t make the final roster, but with veteran experience, it puts pressure on younger receivers to come out to Santa Clara, California and execute at training camp in the battle for roster spots.
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49ers fans ought to be relatively familiar with Nelson, as the former University of Alabama-Birmingham standout became an important role player ever since he joined the Cardinals as a fifth-rounder in the 2015 NFL Draft.
After getting comfortable into the Arizona team as a rookie with 299 yards and 2 touchdowns, Nelson put up back-to-back 500-yard-plus seasons in 2016 and 2017, adding 6 touchdowns in 2016 to boot.
However, Nelson’s role was reduced dramatically in the 2018 season, which led to his eventual departure from the Cardinals and joining up with the Las Vegas Raiders.
The move to the Raiders didn’t quite pan out the way Nelson may have hoped, with the former Blazer totaling just 36 yards on four catches in 2019.
That being said, Nelson has proven ability and offers something as a reliable, mid-range receiver. Depending on training camp, the 49ers may view him as the perfect option as the team’s No. 5 or No. 6 receiver.
Like Nelson, 49ers fans are likely familiar with Austin from his time with the Los Angeles Rams, as well as just for being a hype-heavy prospect coming into the NFL.
Since being selected by the then-St. Louis Rams in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft, Austin has been a player to watch, albeit his production over his career probably doesn’t match being the eighth overall pick of that NFL Draft.
In his first three seasons with the Rams, Austin showed flashes of brilliance, securing 1,133 yards and nine receiving touchdowns, while also being a lethal threat in the special teams game with three touchdowns as the team’s punt returner.
But Austin’s numbers slowly decreased over time both as a receiver, rusher and returner as he saw his way out of Los Angeles and joined the Cowboys.
But like Nelson, head coach Kyle Shanahan’s scheme and coaching may be the juice required to get Austin back into a contributing role. Shanahan loves a hand-off to a receiver, and Austin has a wealth of experience in that role with a whopping 1,342 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns over his career.
Austin will very likely make the team, just because the 49ers need to lock down a returner after the injury and departure of D.J. Reed to the Seattle Seahawks. Who knows if Austin has what it takes to score from that position, but he should be reliable either way.
Evan Reier is a sportswriter covering the San Francisco 49ers for Heavy.com and local sports for the Montana Standard in Butte, Mont. Reach out to him on Twitter at @evanreier and join our 49ers community at Heavy on 49ers on Facebook.