The average age for San Francisco’s receivers is 24, which might be encouraging when you consider young potential, but that can easily be wasted without the guidance of a veteran receiver.
A perfect example of this was the addition of Emmanuel Sanders last season, who had starter-quality but also made an impact in the locker room.
Without Benjamin’s presence, San Francisco could use a guy that has been around the league for an extended amount of time. One name that comes to mind is free agent Taylor Gabriel.
Gabriel has spent time with the Chicago Bears, Atlanta Falcons and the Cleveland Browns, producing consistently throughout his career as a slot receiver, and at 29-years-old, the former Abilene Christian player could be a perfect addition to the locker room while contributing on the field.
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After coming out of Abilene as a relative unknown, Gabriel was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Browns and quickly made an impact as a rookie with 621 receiving yards and a touchdown on 36 receptions.
In 2015, he regressed with just 241 receiving yards, leading to his departure from Cleveland. However, Atlanta recognized his talents and brought him down south.
In his first year with the Falcons, Gabriel totaled 579 yards and a career high 6 touchdowns, while also earning his first rushing touchdown with 51 rushing yards to boot.
After his second season with the Falcons, Gabriel headed to Chicago, where he hit a career-high 688 receiving yards in the Bears’ successful 2018 season, adding a touchdown as well.
2019 was a backwards step for Chicago and for Gabriel in receiving yards with just 353, but a solid four touchdowns showed that the receiver’s nose for the end zone was still active.
Gabriel’s Fit with the 49ers
The only downside that the 49ers would have in Gabriel is that he’s a bit of an entity the team already has: a short, reliable receiver that is best out of the slot. Deebo Samuel and Trent Taylor come to mind.
However, Gabriel has proven season after season that he’s a worthwhile weapon to have, with one of his more impressive stats being his catch percentage: 66.75 percent in the past four seasons.
When you factor in the fact that he remains a free agent ahead of the 2020 NFL season, landing the receiver wouldn’t likely take much committed money, and could easily replace the veteran presence that Benjamin was expected to provide.
It would also just be another type of tool the 49ers could have at their exposure. Taylor provides solid route running and reliability in short-yardage situations, while Deebo is known for his big play ability. Taylor finds himself somewhere in the middle at this stage in his career.
All things considered, if the 49ers were able to land Gabriel, it wouldn’t take much to sign him. The added bonus? Gabriel would be much more likely to make the roster than someone like Benjamin.
On-the-field contribution, off-the-field contribution.
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.