The San Francisco 49ers are less than a week away from their first set of OTAs, which means the eventual training camp depth chart will start to get a little more clarity. I should say, clarity for the team. Given that OTAs involve no tackling, it's as much about the players learning the playbook, and any adjustments to it for the veterans. This is the kind of stuff we can't really know about, and so we're left to sort of half guess at what exactly is going on.
Nonetheless, this is our second of what should be a series of about 13 posts looking at the various positional depth charts. We completed our look at the offensive backfield, with quarterbacks and running backs and fullbacks, and followed up with tight ends. We now move on to the wide receiver position. We'll continue with the format of offseason changes, what the depth chart might look like, strengths and weaknesses, and wrapping with a look at what it all means.
The 49ers went into the offseason with a wide receiver depth chart that included Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, Quinton Patton, and Jon Baldwin. In January, the team signed Chuck Jacobs, Devon Wylie, David Reed and DeMarco Sampson to reserve/future contracts. The team subsequently released Sampson. The team signed Brandon Lloyd to a 1-year deal. On the morning of Day 2 of the 2014 NFL Draft, the 49ers sent a conditional 2015 fourth round pick to the Buffalo Bills in exchange for Stevie Johnson. Finally, the 49ers drafted Bruce Ellington with the first of two fourth round picks.
The 49ers have worked to improve their wide receiver corps each year under Jim Harbaugh, and this year, we could potentially see the deepest group yet. The addition of Stevie Johnson gives them three receivers that have surpassed 1,000 yards at least once. The addition of Bruce Ellington adds another speed element that has been left up to Vernon Davis. Quinton Patton showed some signs last season in limited play. And you've still got a veteran like Brandon Lloyd who is somehow on the bubble. Deep does not begin to describe this group.
Well, it's some noticeable new moving parts in the form of Johnson and Ellington. I don't think the 49ers could ever be too deep, but if the 49ers don't actually figure out how to properly use this whole group, frustration could develop. That might be more on Greg Roman and Jim Harbaugh. There is always the concern of players wanting more balls thrown their way, but in this instance, I think we're looking at a group of receivers that are professional enough to handle the split of passes. I don't doubt we'll see all three occasionally have some words at different times with Kap, but I don't think it will be a festering problem.
What it all means
It's way too early to get too excited about anything, but with this group, I just can't help but get excited. It's as deep as we've ever seen. We need to see this group in place and playing come September, but if they are out there together, I have to think the sky really is the limit with this group. Maybe I'm missing something, and feel free to correct me if you see bigger issues potentially arising in 2014.
For depth chart purposes, I think most of us expect it to be Crabtree, Boldin and Johnson getting the lion's share of playing time. After that, it's an over the top battle royal for both roster spots and playing time. Bruce Ellington and Quinton Patton would seem to be the most likely to secure roster spots, but beyond that, who knows. Kassim Osgood has the benefit of strong special teams play. Brandon Lloyd sat out last season, but was very solid the previous season. Jon Baldwin has talent, and will need to take advantage of this full offseason with the 49ers. Chuck Jacobs looked solid in garbage time last preseason, but it is likely looking at another season on the practice squad, if he is not claimed off waivers.
Jim Harbaugh loves to talk about iron sharpening iron, and we will no doubt see that kind of competition in August. I look forward to the final unit that comes out of training camp, but I also look forward to what should be a great competition throughout the preseason.