Kendrick Bourne is far from the biggest name in Super Bowl 54, but after a season in which he has consistently come through in the clutch, the trust Jimmy Garoppolo has in the former undrafted free agent receiver could be crucial to the San Francisco 49ers’ hopes of victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.
Bourne is effectively the Niners’ fourth receiver behind tight end George Kittle, Emmanuel Sanders, and Deebo Samuel. However, time and again, when they have needed a critical play, either on third down or in the red zone, the 49ers have looked to Bourne.
His importance to the San Francisco offense is illustrated by his performance in Pro Football Network’s Offensive Share Metric (OSM).
OSM uses using the NFL’s Next Gen Stats and a series of algorithms to measure a player’s contribution to his offense’s production by looking at the factors only he could control. Bourne’s 2019 contribution has seen him receive a grade of 35.55, indicating a ‘very good’ level of performance.
Bourne has earned that grade despite finishing with only 358 receiving yards in the regular season. He did, however, increase his catch percentage from 63.6 in 2018 to 68.2 this year, and his proficiency for making massive contributions in significant situations makes it a fully deserved grade for the third-year wideout.
Few receivers flourish in the Kyle Shanahan system without excelling as a route-runner. The San Francisco scheme is one that requires precision, and Bourne has developed into a well-refined route-runner. This was seen by his first touchdown in the Niners’ Week 14 win over the New Orleans Saints, which came about as a result of him intelligently faking a corner route.
Later in the game, Bourne utilized another astute move to put the Niners 10 points up with his second touchdown of the game, staying alive in the play as Garoppolo escaped the pocket, Bourne gaining crucial separation in the end zone with a well-executed double move.
Bourne’s second touchdown in New Orleans encapsulated who he is as a receiver. He is not a wideout who is going to string together explosive plays or 100-yard games, but Bourne is a player who – in those clutch situations – finds a way to get it done.
He has provided further evidence of that in this postseason, specifically the Divisional Round win over the Minnesota Vikings, when a shaky Garoppolo hit Bourne three times for 40 yards and a touchdown.
Garoppolo was most fortunate for Bourne’s presence on a third down in the first quarter when his spectacular diving catch ensured a wobbly throw under severe pressure did not result in a turnover.
Bourne made an even more spectacular play on a third-and-long in the third quarter, his ability to adjust to the ball in the air and body control, helping the 49ers again improbably move the chains.
Due to his position in the receiving pecking order, few will be expecting big things from Bourne on the grandest stage of them all. The emphasis will be on the likes of Kittle, Sanders, and Raheem Mostert to make the plays that deliver a sixth Super Bowl title for San Francisco.
But from David Tyree to Jacoby Jones and Malcolm Butler, it is frequently the lesser lights that make the defining plays in the NFL’s showpiece. Bourne has the ability and the mindset to follow in their footsteps. Undrafted and still widely unheralded outside of San Francisco, Bourne has the complete faith of his quarterback and the Niners offensive staff. He may be the fourth receiver but, if the 49ers need a crucial play on Sunday, they may look to the guy who knows how to get it done in the most important game of his young career.