Wide Receiver: Long look back, brief look forward

The wide receiver position was certainly a roller-coaster ride this season.  Al Davis gift-wrapped Michael Crabtree to the 49ers (High).  Michael Crabtree held out (Low).  Isaac Bruce opened the season with a 50-yard reception (High).  That was pretty much the highlight of his season (Low).  We saw Jason Hill spend much of the first half of the season in somebody's doghouse and not do much the rest of the season, after what I thought was a respectable sophomore campaign.  Simply put, it was most definitely an up and down year by the 49ers wide receivers.

It's really not that simple breaking down the 2009 season that was for 49ers wide receivers.  There was a whole lot of bad, but there was also some wildly intriguing developments.  You can go all the way back to draft day when Michael Crabtree somewhat shockingly fell to the 49ers at the 10th pick.  It really has been a crazy time since then.

Michael Crabtree


Receiving Kickoff Returns Punt Returns
G Rec Yds Y/G AVG Lng TD KR YDS AVG Lng TD PR Yds Avg Lng TD
11 48 625 56.8 13.0 50 2 0 0 0.0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


We've heard and discussed everything under the sun as it relates to Michael Crabtree's holdout.  It was incredibly disappointing, but thankfully the sides worked things out, because Crabtree was a revelation on the field.  He's got plenty of room for improvement but he showed what kind of talent he has in a mere 11 weeks of action.  He put up the second best numbers by a rookie receiver since Jerry Rice, but it was more than simple numbers with him.  From day one there has been a confidence surrounding Michael Crabtree that has allowed him to make plays many of our receivers simply don't even think about.  Whether it be his moves after the catch, or his ability to haul in some tough catches, the future is incredibly bright for Crabtree.

What many fans are awaiting is that monster break-out game that puts Crabtree on the map.  I'm certainly not saying he didn't catch the eye of fans, or that he didn't put up good games.  On the contrary, he seemed to provide a consistency in his time on the field.  The next step would be making some bigger plays and really blowing up.  Maybe it happens in 2010, maybe later, but I do see it coming at some point.  Give him a full offseason and training camp with the team and I think we can only begin to imagine where he might end up.

After the jump we look at the rest of the 49ers wide receivers, and take a brief look ahead...

Josh Morgan


Receiving Kickoff Returns Punt Returns
G Rec Yds Y/G AVG Lng TD KR YDS AVG Lng TD PR Yds Avg Lng TD
15 52 527 35.1 10.1 61 3 13 367 28.2 76 0 0 0 0 0 0


During the 2008 training camp, injuries moved Josh Morgan into the starting lineup fairly quickly.  Unfortunately, a staph infection and a subsequent groin injury limited Morgan to 12 games, and some ineffectiveness early on.  He looked solid ending 2008, raising hopes and expectations in 2009.  Crabtree's holdout and an injury to Brandon Jones kept Morgan in the starting lineup to begin 2009.  He had his ups and downs, but certainly flashed some of the talent that got 49ers fans excited.  Once Crabtree signed, it appeared as though Morgan was going to lose his starting job.  However, it was in fact Isaac Bruce that eventually lost his starting job, leaving us with a starting WR duo of Michael Crabtree and Josh Morgan.

As is the case with any young receiver, getting some level of consistency will be an important task heading into 2010.  I think it's fairly clear that he's talented.  Now we just need him to start reaching his potential.  If the 49ers can find somebody to return kicks, Morgan will be able to focus completely on his receiving duties.  If the 49ers young receivers can take the "next step" in their performance, Morgan would seem to benefit.  When a defense already has to cover Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis, Morgan could certainly become that overlooked #3 guy, even being in the starting lineup.  As with Crabtree, a full offseason with Alex Smith and this group of receivers should provide substantial benefit.

Brandon Jones


Receiving Kickoff Returns Punt Returns
G Rec Yds Y/G AVG Lng TD KR YDS AVG Lng TD PR Yds Avg Lng TD
5 1 18 3.6 18.0 18 0 0 0 0.0 0 0 0 26 2.9 13 0


5-years, $16.5 million...1 catch, 18 yards, 2.9 yards per punt return.  I think those numbers tell you most of what you need to know about Brandon Jones in 2009.  Of course, he also had to deal with a broken shoulder blade that cost him 6 weeks of practice and playing time.  That certainly knocked him to the back of the line, but was it really enough to keep him from showing something in practice once he got healthy?  He got some chances as a punt returner but was basically useless in that role.  In the end, it was basically a lost season for Jones.

Now we get to see what the team has in mind for him the coming season.  Some folks have spoken about potentially cutting Jones, both here and in the media.  He has a lot to prove in training camp and I've certainly seen more surprising cuts in the past.  Nonetheless, I think he'll get another season to show what he can do if fully healthy.  He's a talented receiver who's never been able to harness that talent.  Who knows if he'll do it in San Francisco, but I'm fairly certain he'll end up with more than one reception in 2010.

Jason Hill



Receiving Kickoff Returns Punt Returns
G Rec Yds Y/G AVG Lng TD KR YDS AVG Lng TD PR Yds Avg Lng TD
6 9 90 15.0 10.0 30 2 0 0 0.0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


The 2009 season never really got going for the San Francisco native.  Hill showed some impressive signs in 2008, but was not able to follow that up in 2009.  Apparently he came into training camp battling some nagging injuries and it cost him precious practice time.  Hill was inactive 5 of the first 7 games, and didn't make his first reception until week 9. After 30 catches for 317 yards in 2008, Hill regressed to 9 catches for 90 yards (although the same # of TDs, 2).

Barring any cuts, Hill will be doing battle with Brandon Jones for the #3 receiver spot.  Arnaz Battle and Isaac Bruce are likely finished as 49ers, and the 49ers probably won't be spending big money on a free agent wide receiver, or grabbing one high in the draft.  Both have the same amount of time with Alex Smith at the helm, so if they were smart they'd be getting as much work in with him this offseason.

Isaac Bruce


Receiving Kickoff Returns Punt Returns
G Rec Yds Y/G AVG Lng TD KR YDS AVG Lng TD PR Yds Avg Lng TD
8 21 264 33.0 12.6 50 0 0 0 0.0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


Bruce appears set to retire after an amazing NFL career.  His time with the 49ers ended fairly quietly, as he was inactive for six of the last eight weeks, and the finale was meant simply as a send-off in front of his fans in St. Louis.  However, I imagine he was incredibly useful to have around the young receivers.  He'll be missed, even having spent the vast majority of his career as an all-time great with a 49ers nemesis.

Arnaz Battle


Receiving Kickoff Returns Punt Returns
G Rec Yds Y/G AVG Lng TD KR YDS AVG Lng TD PR Yds Avg Lng TD
14 5 40 2.9 8.0 12 0 3 68 22.7 26 0 0 61 2.9 18 0


I've always been a fan of Arnaz Battle, in part because he made a lot of not so much.  The addition of Michael Crabtree, among many other reasons, pushed Arnaz Battle off stage right as a receiver, although he get plenty of playing time returning punts.  He never caught a pass after week 5, and I (as well as many of you) would be fairly surprised if the 49ers re-signed him in any capacity.

Looking Forward
I can't imagine the 49ers will make a big splash in the receiving pool this offseason, be it free agency or the draft.  I'd suspect they'll add somebody (or really multiple somebodies), but I wouldn't be looking for immediate big-time impact guys.  Rather, I'd suspect they'll look for a depth guy or two.

Free Agency
Although the 49ers likely won't be shopping for a big-time free agent wide receiver, it's certainly to check out what is a fairly impressive list:

Brandon Marshall - Restricted free agent, amazing wide receiver, and head-case extraordinaire.  Trade rumors have swirled around Marshall for some time now, and a deal could be swung at some point in March when the trade deadline opens (given his RFA status).  We've had multiple threads discussing him, but I just don't see the 49ers going there.

Vincent Jackson - Another great receiver that will cost someone an arm and a leg.  The Chargers have a lot of decisions to make, with multiple players worthy of their franchise and/or transition tags.  He's insanely talented and I strongly suspect the Chargers will lock him up.

Miles Austin - Austin was signed to a 1-year deal, and a strong close to the 2009 regular season has likely upped his contract demands.  Austin started his career rather quietly with 18 catches in 3 seasons before busting out this season with 74 receptions for 1,230 yards.  Somebody is going to give him a lot of money, and one has to wonder whether he'll prove to be a one-hit wonder.  He could turn into a great pro, but it'd be nice to have more than one year of quality production on which to base a contract offer.

Braylon Edwards
Terrell Owens
Antonio Bryant
Derrick Mason
Steve Breaston (RFA)
Malcolm Floyd
Kevin Walter

2010 NFL Draft
There's some talented receivers, but I really don't see the 49ers trying to grab someone too high.  Rather, I could see a 3rd or 4th round pick, at the highest, being used on a receiver.  Given that, I'll go a little deeper in the pool.  Again, the rankings come from Draft Tek.

Overall Rank Wide Receivers - Nonspecialized School
10
*Dez Bryant Oklahoma State
14
Brandon LaFell LSU
41
Jeremy Williams Tulane
45
*Damian Williams USC
58
*Arrelious Benn Illinois
61
Eric Decker Minnesota
122
*Mike Williams Syracuse
127
Naaman Roosevelt Buffalo
157
Riley Cooper Florida
158
Marcus Easley Connecticut
180
Shay Hodge Mississippi
183
Blair White Michigan State
189
Chris McGaha Arizona State
X
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