Over the weekend, Matt Maiocco put together a rundown of the 49ers offensive players (signed and unsigned) and their respective involvement in the pair of players-only minicamps we affectionately called Camp Alex. The Jim Harbaugh/Greg Roman offense is a long way from being fully implemented but it sounds like the team is making some solid progress.
The 49ers coaching staff has a whole host of interesting offensive weapons at their disposal as they prepare to make the conversion to a west coast-style of offense. That's not to say they'll be rolling out a 1998 Minnesota Vikings offensive onslaught but I think there's enough weapons that some decent quarterback play could put the 49ers in position to actually be a fun offense to watch.
That got me thinking about these various weapons and who might come out of nowhere, at least on the national scene to provide quality performances in 2011. If the 49ers don't get decent QB play none of this matters, but let's just say for arguments sake that somebody steps up and plays something resembling pass-able football. If that happens who do you think could emerge as the sleeper on offense?
Vernon Davis and Frank Gore don't count in this discussion. I'd say Michael Crabtree doesn't as well because the hype is still there and I would not be remotely surprised by a breakout season from Crabtree. However, if you think he could be viewed as a sleeper, feel free to make your argument.
Rather, I'm looking at the rest of the offense. In his rundown of the players, Maiocco indicated Ronald Johnson seemed to be picking up the new offense fairly well. It's hard to really judge that at this point, but if it's true that's great news. Johnson has been around for both formal minicamps and also the informal workouts. That doesn't mean he'll break through and be a force to be reckoned with in 2011, but it's worth noting.
Delanie Walker is another guy who remains a fan favorite year in and year out. Walker thinks the coaches will utilize him more, and given Harbaugh's use of multiple tight ends at Stanford, it makes sense for Walker to be excited. I have to say I'm as excited to see how Harbaugh uses the 49ers tight ends. The 49ers have two of the most athletic tight ends in the NFL with the ability to create some pretty insane mismatches. They could roll out formations that feature Davis on the line and Walker split out along with Crabtree, Morgan and either Ronald Johnson or Kyle Williams. Throw in Frank Gore coming out of the backfield and that's a whole lot of talent to cover.
Kyle Williams is a guy who could work his way into sleeper territory if he could remain healthy. While I hope it works out for the best, I'm not holding my breath given the hamstring injury he dealt with in the minicamp. Training camp will tell us a lot about Williams and whether he can stay healthy heading into the season. If he can gain some momentum out of camp he could very well be a serious player coming out the slot.
In looking through the 49ers skill position players, after Davis and Crabtree, the 49ers could really set themselves up for success with a fairly even distribution of passes across the board. The key will be getting some consistent performances from the broad mix of players. The team doesn't need to get into a whole host of exotic formations to maximize the return from this offense. It's just a matter of some of the guys further down the depth chart stepping up and taking care of business.