Earlier today, return man Ted Ginn Jr. signed with the Carolina Panthers, ending his three-year tenure with the San Francisco 49ers. Considering the 49ers acquired Ginn for a fifth round pick in 2010, the 49ers did fairly well for themselves. Ginn was a dominant return man in 2011, but then struggled to find consistency in 2012.
This move officially closes the door on Ginn's return, meaning LaMichael James and Kyle Williams currently sit as front runners for kick and punt return duties in 2013. That was the expectation heading into the offseason, and Ginn's departure confirms that.
Both Williams and James got a fair amount of work returning kicks in 2012, but only Williams has punt return experience, and even that is fairly limited. In three seasons, Williams has returned a total of nine punts. James got some work returning punts in the preseason and struggled mightily. Once James was activated late in the season, his only return work was on kickoffs.
The 49ers could still consider other return options. Perrish Cox had some return experience with the Broncos, while Marlon Moore returned some punts in college. And of course, the 49ers could find somebody in the draft who could earn snaps at the return positions.