Here at Niners Nation, we're presenting a series called "90-in-90". We'll be looking at every player on the 49ers offseason roster, one player per post, from now until the start of training camp.
The 49ers find themselves in a good AND bad situation with wide receiver Mario Manningham. The 49ers need wide receiver help with Michael Crabtree down, but they also need to see what their young talent can bring to the table. Manningham is coming off a season in which he put together solid numbers before torn knee ligaments ended it. I would much prefer he be healthy, but the team also has a chance to see what else they've got. The situation is not ideal, but it could be worse.
Manningham did not put huge numbers in 2012, but his 42 receptions for 449 yards and a touchdown were valuable as the offense figured out its identity over the course of the year. I have a hunch he could have been a difference-maker come playoff time, but that's all woulda, coulda, shoulda.
Although Manningham was not lighting up the stat sheet, he was making some critical receptions, and a nice alternative to Michael Crabtree. He is a solid route runner, and if he can get back to 100%, he could be an impact player in this Crabtree-less offense in 2013.
What to expect in 2013
There are no guarantees on anything with Manningham, but my belief is that we see him on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list at the start of training camp. That's not exactly shocking info giving that he is slowly working back, only now starting to do some cutting. Even with Crabtree out, I think Manningham starts the regular season on the PUP list and the required time out it entails.
Of course, if he is working his way back and the young receivers are struggling, maybe that timetable gets pushed up a little bit. Obviously, the team wants him 100%, but if he's close enough and we see A.J. Jenkins, Quinton Patton, Ricardo Lockette and Marlon Moore all struggling, maybe he comes back sooner.
Once he does get back, it's really a tough call. His best work is in his route running. With a torn up knee, how will his psychological makeup help or hurt his recovery? When he's running a route, will he be tentative, and thus round off routes instead of running them as crisp as is required? These are things we just don't know right now. He's a free agent after this year, so this is not about hoping he rebounds a year later. I'd like to think he has enough left in the tank to bounce back once healthy, but I honestly just don't know.
Odds of making the roster
Manningham restructured his contract in March. Given the injury and the fact that he would probably be looking at no more than a veteran minimum contract once healthy, it was not surprising to see him accept a new deal. This does not guarantee him a roster spot, but I think it puts him in a much firmer position heading into training camp. Additionally, with the PUP list still on the table, the 49ers have some flexibility with him.
Even with the new need at wide receiver, I think the 49ers will take their time figuring this out and use every option at their disposal. I really think Manningham starts the season on the PUP list, extending out the decision-making process. Moreover, once he's eligible to come off the PUP list, I think Manningham sticks around. If he is back to near 100%, his playoff experience remains invaluable alongside Anquan Boldin. Of course, things get particularly interesting later in the year if Michael Crabtree is able to effectively return in December. Much of this discussion will center on how the rest of the wide receiver corps is performing.