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49ers Wide Receivers: Long Look Back, Brief Look Forward

Like the aforementioned quarterback position, I knew the Long Look Back, Brief Look Forward article on wide receivers would take some time, and that's why it was put off until the end. One could say that 2010 was disappointing for the 49ers group of receivers, and it's also a fair statement to say that the group is definitely not where the team and the fans want it to be at this point in development.

That isn't to say that San Francisco is totally devoid of receiving talent, and it isn't to say that the 49ers absolutely need to draft high or sign a big name, but all avenues must be considered when you have a question mark at a position. Teams should always be looking to improve, and the 49ers are no different. Of course, they shouldn't be looking intently for inside linebackers so they can improve over Patrick Willis or something far-fetched like that, but when a team doesn't have pro bowl talent somewhere, they should always have their eyes open, looking to add some.

Michael Crabtree

Receiving Kickoff Returns Punt Returns
G Rec Yds Y/G AVG Lng TD KR YDS AVG Lng TD PR Yds Avg Lng TD
16 55 741 46.3 13.5 60 6 1 0 0.0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

Oh, Michael ... Michael started the 2010 season on my [site decorum]-list. In week one, it is true that everybody on the roster got knocked around more often than not, but Crabtree was the catalyst for all of my frustrations from the onset. San Francisco wasn't playing badly, at least not by my estimation, until Crabtree tipped a pass right to a defender. It didn't help when he did it again. He came out slow, he wasn't prepared in the huddle, and he just looked flat-out lost out there. He didn't belong on the field.

The huge problem with this, was that it lingered on during the beginning of the season. He'd have a decent game, and then he would mis-handle a pass once again, when he is supposed to be a sure-thing to make a catch. It was one of the most frustrating things ever, especially when you consider what went down in preseason and all of that. He still has not had a preseason in the NFL, I sincerely hope he does this year.

It wasn't all bad, though. Passes stopped being tipped, and when they were, it was more of a product of Alex Smith's inability to execute simple short passes effectively without rocketing them four feed above a receiver's head. Was Crabtree developing into a number one receiving option? It looked that way at times, but he lacked consistency.

One of the things I really enjoy about Crabtree is that, when he gets the ball in his hands, he looks like he can run for a touchdown every time. Maybe that's a little bit of an exaggeration, but he has this ability to make himself very small, and he's got deceptive burst and finds his way around receivers, and is only brought down when a group of players swarm him. He's dangerous, the ability is there, but there's been something missing to tie it all together.

Maybe it's the quarterback play, or the fact that the 49ers don't have a number two perceived as being worthy. Teams are free to put their number one corners on Crabtree. It's not that Crabtree can't handle that, it's that he can't handle it alone. Plus, as the first sentence of this paragraph states, it could very well be the quarterback play. Or maybe it's the offense, which doesn't even really rely on wide receivers.

Honestly, when I looked and saw that he had 741 yards, I was surprised, because that was about 200 more yards than I had thought off the top of my head. It's not an eye-popping number, but we at least know he's not some hack. If you want my honest opinion on this (as someone with a history of disliking Crabtree), I believe his deficiencies have come from a number of areas totally unrelated to his actual talent. I believe that the west coast offense is the place for him to succeed, as a number one option, but one that is moved around the field more.

After the jump, we look at the other wide receiver options on the 49ers roster, the 2011 free agents for the position and of course, the 2011 NFL draft ...

Josh Morgan

Receiving Kickoff Returns Punt Returns
G Rec Yds Y/G AVG Lng TD KR YDS AVG Lng TD PR Yds Avg Lng TD
15 44 698 46.5 15.9 65 2 2 19 9.5 13 0 0 0 0 0 0

Josh Morgan didn't show up huge in every game, but he consistently was an option and was never really detrimental to the team in 2010. When a ball went his way, it was generally caught reliably and he actually found himself open deep more often than not, which is something I personally did not expect. This was a year in which I finally felt like Morgan was playing up to his potential, at least in regards to his ability out there.

The stats still are not there, and once again I'm wondering what is the offense and what is the receiver just not being open to make a play. I will say this, I saw Josh Morgan running open and not get a pass thrown his way more often than I saw anyone else in the same vein. Throughout his entire career thus far, 49ers fans have been waiting for him to break out. Labeled as a sleeper going into the draft, he looked as though he may never wake up when 2009 ended with more wasted potential. 2010 was much different, despite comparable stats.

I'm just going in circles here, but I think Morgan was one of the more impressive targets this past season, passes just never went his way in my opinion. He may be a solid number two going forward, or he might not be. He hasn't shown enough, but I do like what I see.

Ted Ginn Jr.

Receiving Kickoff Returns Punt Returns
G Rec Yds Y/G AVG Lng TD KR YDS AVG Lng TD PR Yds Avg Lng TD
13 12 163 12.5 13.6 37 1 47 992 21.1 61 0 0 321 13.4 78 1

Ginn was seriously misused in 2010, when it comes to the offensive side of the ball. He handled his business on kick and punt returns, but when it came to the offense, he was to be used for one thing and one thing only: the deep ball. I think we as 49ers fans were intelligent enough to not hate the trade for him so much because it was (supposed to be) clear that he was only going to be used sparingly on offense. The problem with that was that Alex Smith was a check-down machine and Troy Smith couldn't identify a receiver running free unless said receiver was his first read.

The other problem was the fact that the 49ers routinely used him in 3rd-and-short situations, or generally would try and get the ball to him on curl routes and things of that nature. I'm all for giving Ginn another chance to earn his draft positioning, but when it wasn't working early on, why did they continue? He's just not that kind of receiver, and I hope the 49ers learned that lesson in 2010. That doesn't mean he doesn't hold value in that regard, however. If the new offense works like it's supposed to, players like Michael Crabtree and Josh Morgan will be running different routes to move safeties and cause havoc on the back-end ... where Ted Ginn will hopefully be waiting.

Guess we'll jut have to find out. For now, Ginn performed like most expected him to at both receiver and returner positions.

Dominique Zeigler

Receiving Kickoff Returns Punt Returns
G Rec Yds Y/G AVG Lng TD KR YDS AVG Lng TD PR Yds Avg Lng TD
8 9 98 12.3 10.9 20 0 0 0 0.0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

I want to get one thing straight right off the bat, with personal bias aside. I am not saying that Zeigler is a better receiver than Ted Ginn, but what I am going to say is this: the 49ers would have converted more third downs and been better off in more short yardage situations if it was Zeigler on the field instead of Ginn. Zeigler is not a guy who can burn someone deep, but as to why the 49ers would go with Ginn on 3rd-and-4 with someone with the skillset of Zeigler on the sidelines, I'm at a loss.

Zeigler was injured and placed on injured reserve, but he didn't see the field much anyway in 2010. When he did see the field, he caught the balls thrown his way and earned himself a couple of first downs. There's not much else to say about it, going forward he will be battling for a roster spot.

Kyle Williams

Receiving Kickoff Returns Punt Returns
G Rec Yds Y/G AVG Lng TD KR YDS AVG Lng TD PR Yds Avg Lng TD
3 1 8 2.7 8.0 8 0 4 82 20.5 30 0 0 16 5.3 9 0

There's not much to say regarding Williams' talents as a wide receiver. I don't know how his hands are, and I don't know if his route running is good enough to make him a threat, but I do know that he is very quick and agile, and should excel given a certain role in the offense. Williams on a slant could be a dangerous thing, but we can't know for sure based on 2010. He's got great footwork and has solid potential as a sleeper going forward, if he can stay healthy.

Looking Ahead

Going forward, the 49ers will likely have Crabtree, Morgan, Ginn and Williams on the roster for sure. Is that enough out of your receivers? Well, considering Delanie Walker and Vernon Davis, it just might be, but they could always look to free agency or the draft for another body. This is a strong free agent class in that regard, and if they have some money to burn, I'd love to see them go after someone else.

2011 Free Agency

Sidney Rice, Minnesota Vikings: Rice will likely test the free agent market and he'll probably get a good deal of money. I'd love to hope that the 49ers are in the running to get him, because he just feels like a great fit here. He's young and explosive, which is great, but probably means the 49ers will not be in the running.

Santonio Holmes, New York Jets: He's probably going to re-sign with the Jets, but he would instantly be the number one in San Francisco and be a very reliable target for any quarterback we happen to bring in.

Braylon Edwards, New York Jets: I'm very hesitant to list Braylon, because if the 49ers bring in a young guy, they need a receiver who is reliable in every facet of his game. Edwards has a history of terrible drops, but he's definitely been better in that regard lately. Maybe he's changed? Maybe not. Either way, the Jets will elect to bring Holmes back and Edwards should be available.

Steve Smith, New York Giants: The 49ers do not technically have a huge need at wide receiver, which means they can sign a guy who may not be ready for the beginning of the season, someone like Smith. If they like his chances at making a full recovery (injury late in the season in 2010), they could potentially get him for cheap. He's a great receiver.

James Jones, Green Bay Packers
Malcolm Floyd, San Diego Chargers
Lance Moore, New Orleans Saints
Mike Sims-Walker, Jacksonville Jaguars
Terrell Owens, Cincinnati Bengals
Santana Moss, Washington Redskins
Danny Amendola, St. Louis Rams
Steve Breaston, Arizona Cardinals
Mark Clayton, St. Louis Rams

2011 NFL Draft

I honestly don't feel like the 49ers will be looking at wide receivers early on in the draft, and I really don't think they'll try and fish the later rounds for someone with high potential. At this point, there is a lot of youth an inexperience in their current group of wide receivers, and even more "potential," and adding another player with a potential high ceiling (along with a potential bust factor) is not really smart for the "now."

However, here is DraftTek's big board for flankers, split ends, and slot receivers. Like I said, I don't think it's likely, but if a big, big name falls into the second or third round, can we as fans be displeased if the 49ers pull the trigger? I don't think so. The position isn't one of "need," but it is a question mark, which means if there's at trigger to pull, pull it.

QB | HB | FB | TE | WR | OT | G | C | DE | NT | OLB | ILB | CB | S | K/P | KR/PR