This 4th round pick is listed as the 49ers biggest sleeper from their rookie class

Speed is everything in today’s NFL

The 49ers used one of their three fourth-round picks on a wide receiver from the University of Arizona. Cowing ran a 4.38 40-yard dash, but his numbers from his final season with the Wildcats suggest that he was more of a possession receiver than a player who stretches the field.

Ninety catches for under 900 yards but 13 touchdowns, with most of those coming inside of the red zone. His profile doesn’t fit the mold of your typical 5’11, 175-pound receiver. It’ll be interesting to see what role Kyle Shanahan believes is best for Cowing.

NFL Draft analyst Greg Cosell spoke about Cowing’s time at UTEP when he was used “totally differently” than he was at Arizona:

“At Arizona, he became a short to intermediate receiver that every once in a while might run vertical. When he was at UTEP, he was a vertical dimension, and he ran a 4.38 40. This guy can run. He’s got natural quickness as a route runner. He runs precise routes. He’s 5’8 and 3/4. I think we saw what Tank Dell did a year ago.

Cowing probably has more vertical speed. Dell is more explosive laterally, although Cowing is pretty good in that regard. But I’m really interested to see him because he can run. The Niners don’t truly have that guy. Aiyuk is not slow, but they don’t have a true vertical dimension. Now he’ll probably end up as a return man with the new rules but he was really interesting to me when I watched his 2021 tape.”

In 2023, Cowing averaged just over nine yards per reception. He was no slouch, as Cowing had six receptions of at least 20 air yards. But when you go back to his UTEP days in 2021, Cowing averaged an incredible 19.6 yards per reception on 69 catches. He also had one carry for 53 yards that led to a touchdown.

Cowing is a popular “sleeper” pick this year, given his collegiate production, speed, versatility, and pairing that with Kyle Shanahan. Draftwire’s Doug Farrar listed Cowing as the top sleeper pick for the Niners:

Assuming that the 49ers keep both Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk this season, the addition of first-round receiver Ricky Pearsall gives Kyle Shanahan a different kind of target for which to scheme in that Pearsall is one of those guys who knows how to get open. But what about the deep ball? Aiyuk led the team last season with 15 catches on passes of 20 or more air yards, and George Kittle was second with seven. That’s worked just fine to date, but it also sets the table for Arizona’s Jacob Cowing, who the team took with the 135th overall pick in the fourth round.

In 2023, the 5′ 8⅜”, 163-pound Cowing had six receptions on passes of 20 or more air yards on a team where the deep ball wasn’t a feature. His tape shows a lot of speed potential, and in today’s NFL, teams are less concerned with smaller receivers, given the use of motion and multiple deployments to keep them open, and away from bigger, more aggressive defenders.

If Cowing ends up as the 49ers’ primary returner and contributes 20-30 receptions and a handful of explosive plays, that’d be a successful rookie season.

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