As we've witnessed the past two seasons, a team can never have enough depth at receiver. In 2011 the 49ers lost Josh Morgan for the season, and this year the 49ers have seen Kyle Williams and Mario Manningham go on injured reserve. A team can survive with a depleted receiving corps, but that's never the plan.
With the exception of Michael Crabtree, the rest of the receivers need to play more consistently and get open. In the Divisional round game against the Packers, the only 49ers receiver besides Michael Crabtree to have more than one reception was Randy Moss, with two. The 49ers will need more production from the rest of their wideouts this week and next season, and moving into the 2013 season they have to figure out who's staying and who's going.
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I feel there is little chance Ted Ginn Jr. is retained this offseason. He's been non-existent as a receiver and has had a sub-par year as a return man. He will likely be replaced in the draft by someone who was a good returner in college and also has upside as a receiver.
Randy Moss has shown this season he still belongs on an NFL roster and can still make some big time plays. Whether he retires or not remains to be seen. If he wants to stay in the Bay, at the very least the 49ers will listen. He's been a good teammate and source of knowledge to his fellow receivers and Colin Kaepernick. Qualities like that bump a player's value up.
Mario Manningham is questionable to even return by training camp, and it's possible the 49ers part ways with him. Manningham's contract next season isn't guaranteed, and if they release him they'd be saving $3.6 million. The 49ers will have to decide if he's worth that much money.
Locks to be on the team next season are Michael Crabtree and A.J. Jenkins. The 49ers also have Kyle Williams, who made some nice plays this season at receiver and had some great kick and punt returns before his injury. I'd like to see him stick around, and with Williams set to make just $575,000 next season, that's highly likely.
We haven't seen enough from A.J. Jenkins to even give him a performance grade. When it comes to Jenkins, patience and having faith in Baalke and Harbaugh's decision to draft him are key. Fooch did an all-22 of Jenkins performance against the Cardinals in week 17. It shows Jenkins did some good things and gave us some room for optimism going forward. Hopefully we'll see some progression this week in Atlanta and hopefully February 3rd in New Orleans to quell some of the doubts about him going into the offseason.
We're looking at the 49ers adding anywhere from two to five receivers via draft and undrafted free agency. If a pick is high (rounds 1 to 4), expect the receiver to make the team by default. If it's a lower pick (five to undrafted free agents) expect that group to compete for roster spots.
Here are my top ten prospects at wide receiver:
1.. Keenan Allen 6-3 210 lbs- California Stock: Declining (injury) Projection: 1st
2. Tavon Austin 5-9 175 lbs- West Virginia Stock: Rising Projection: 1st
3. Cordarrelle Patterson 6-3 205 lbs- Tennessee Stock: Rising Projection: 1st
4. Justin Hunter 6-4 200 lbs- Tennessee Stock: Rising Projection: 1st
5. Terrance Williams 6-2 205 lbs- Baylor Stock: Steady Projection: 2nd
6. Deandre Hopkins 6-1 200 lbs- Clemson Stock: Steady Projection: 2nd
7. Markus Wheaton 6-1 182 lbs- Oregon State Stock: Rising Projection: 2nd
8. Robert Woods 6-1 190 lbs- USC Stock: Declining Projection: 2nd
9. Da'Rick Rogers 6-3 206 lbs- Tennessee Tech Stock: Steady Projection: 2nd
10.Quinton Patton 6-2 195 lbs- Louisiana Tech Stock: Steady Projection: 2nd
Just Missing: Stedman Bailey- West Virginia; Ryan Swope- Texas A&M; Cobi Hamilton- Arkansas; Denard Robinson- Michigan; Aaron Dobson- Marshall
While any of these prospects listed could turn out to be stars in the NFL, I'm hesitant about some of them. We'll see more from them when the All Star games, Combine, pro days, and individual workouts roll around. Almost all of these receivers have the same one or two things in common: dropped passes and bad route running. Not many prospects have the speed/height combo. None are A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Calvin Johnson, or a young Randy Moss. There are a few exceptions that meet the speed/height criteria however. Cordarrelle Patterson would be an exception, but he's unlikely to be available when the 49ers pick in rothe first round. His teammate Justin Hunter, who is arguably just as good, should be on the board at the end of round one.
Hunter's size is appealing and he has good speed to go along with it, what he needs is polish. There's no doubt he's more seasoned than A.J. Jenkins was coming out of college, and he could develop into a nice complement opposite Michael Crabtree. It's always valuable to have a player who can catch a fade in the end zone, out jump a small corner for a big pass downfield. Hunter could provide the 49ers offense with such things. Hunter does drop balls, but he could develop into a solid pro. Is he worth rolling the dice? We'll see.
A few Niners Nation members have mentioned Tavon Austin as a potential option for the 49ers. Austin is one of the fastest and most exciting receivers in the draft. The obvious drawback is his height and frame, but I'm not going to hate on a man who did nothing but produce this season. Austin also played some running back and was a returner. He can do it all. The argument can be made that Geno Smith made him look better than he is, but I've watched Austin make some phenomenal catches this season making Smith look good too. Austin may be available when the 49ers are on the clock in round one, so they'll have a decision to make.
A player who does some things Austin can do is Denard Robinson. Robinson has similar intangibles as Austin, but clearly not a polished receiver. Robinson could be had in the third round or later, I'm not sure if the 49ers want a major project on their hands like him, but they could love his upside. Robinson could also return kicks and punts. I don't see him being any better of a receiver than Hester or Ginn however.
A couple mid-late round prospects the 49ers may target are Elon receiver Aaron Mellette and Kansas State's Chris Harper. Mellette may not hail from a big school, but he's big (6-3 215 lbs), and so is his game. Mellette had 97 receptions this season and 18 touchdowns, he has the ability to stretch the field and I believe he's a player who is flying under the radar. Harper had a good Fiesta Bowl in the loss to Oregon, hauling in 8 catches. He is hard to take down (6-1 229 lbs), and is great after the catch. Mellette or Harper could be the second receiver selected by the 49ers in the draft. They'll both be playing in the Senior Bowl.
The 49ers don't have to go receiver with their first pick because there are a lot of options in every round. Within the first three rounds they will be selecting one in my opinion. I see them drafting a tall receiver and a little speedster. Which one is drafted first is open to debate.
Other players I mentioned who will be playing in the Senior Bowl are Terrance Williams, Markus Wheaton, Quinton Patton, Cobi Hamilton, Aaron Dobson, and Denard Robinson.
Who should the 49ers go after? Comment away and I'll be happy to have a full discussion.
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