The San Francisco 49ers were in a very, very bad place at the wide receiver position not so long ago. Then Anquan Boldin had an excellent 2013 season, and the 49ers traded for Stevie Johnson. Add to that Michael Crabtree, the potential for Quinton Patton to breakout in his sophomore year and, of course, Bruce Ellington potentially making waves as a rookie.
Suddenly, the 49ers are in excellent shape at the receiver position. But how do they stack up with the rest of the league? When you include tight end Vernon Davis, they stack up pretty darn well.
Over at NFL.com, Bucky Brooks ranked the receiving corps around the NFL with a top five and, wouldn't you know it, the 49ers made the list. Brooks has them at No. 4, just above the Indianapolis Colts, and just below Washington, the Chicago Bears and the Denver Broncos.
Brooks cites the exceptional ball-skills, saying that 49ers receivers have "some of the best hands in the NFL." He gives a solid rundown of both Boldin and Crabtree (Boldin is the backbone of the passing game, Crabtree is a classic No. 1 receiver with outstanding "balance, body control and hands), and talks about Davis ("one of the premier tight ends in the game") before talking about either Johnson or Brandon Lloyd.
Johnson and Lloyd could wage a training-camp battle for the third receiver spot. Johnson spent the past four years acting as the Buffalo Bills' No. 1 receiver, posting three straight 1,000-yard seasons from 2010 to 2012. He is an unorthodox route-runner, but his crafty game makes him tough to guard on the perimeter. Lloyd is likely considered a wild card at the position after sitting out the 2013 season, but he is a polished playmaker with strong hands and extraordinary ball skills.
With young prospects like Quinton Patton and Bruce Ellington also in the mix, the 49ers have one of the deepest receiving corps the NFL has seen in some time.
I don't disagree with Brooks, though I think it's worth noting that San Francisco's receiver woes aren't a thing of the past just yet. The jury is still out on both Patton and Ellington, both of whom could wind up not panning out, and then there's the small matter of Crabtree's pending contract expiration. I'm not sure if the 49ers can afford to keep him around, and on top of that, Boldin isn't going to be around for that long, either.
The 49ers need to figure out a long-term plan at the receiver position, that's a fact. But it's pretty darn comforting to see how much can change in such a short time. Seeing how all of this plays out should be very interesting, though I think success this next season, barring injury, will be hard to avoid.