The San Francisco 49ers could find themselves with quite the conundrum come September: who should lead the 49ers depth chart out of the slot?
The Niners possess two exceptional options in wide receivers Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams. Both of them physically fit the part, and can seriously hurt teams in the middle of the field. With Randy Moss and Michael Crabtree controlling the attention on the outside, either Manningham or Williams could excel in a slot role.
There will of course be opportunities for them to be on the field at the same time, but we're anticipating more three-WR sets in 2012 and with that being the case, which receiver will be the affirmed go-to-guy?
Right off the bat, the favorite in this argument is undoubtedly Mario Manningham. The 49ers acquired his services in free agency for the next two years at least, and he's coming off a strong year where he had a dynamite postseason. Manningham, having been with the Giants, was not in a position to earn a starting role in that offense but felt he could excel elsewhere.
In an attempt to upgrade their passing offense, the 49ers thought Manningham could provide playmaking ability primarily out of the slot.
However, if the coaches are starting their evaluations from scratch, this position battle could go either way. Kyle Williams is a tremendous talent and has perhaps the quickest feet on the team, beside new addition LaMichael James. As a receiver in 2011, Williams put his raw athleticism on display and showed glimpses of being a very productive receiver in this league.
When it comes to yards after catch, I think Williams has the edge over Manningham -- and in the 49ers West Coast system, that may bode well for Williams. Playing in Manningham's favor is his ability to create separation from defenders and makes spectacular catches.
In the 49ers' preseason opener against the Minnesota Vikings, it was Williams who saw plenty of time on the field while Manningham did not even suit up. Not to say this is indicative of the final depth chart, but it's worth noting that Williams looked comfortable with the ball out there and as athletic as ever. With quickness and big-play ability, Williams continued to see time as a returner.
The 49ers could strike up a balance where they take turns subbing in, seeing equal time. In addition to the slot, they will also see reps at split-end and flanker, allowing them to use their speed on the perimeter. This competition should heat up as camp progresses and the 49ers realize they have two viable options at No. 3.