Over the course of the 2011 season, the 49ers mixed and matched wide receivers as best they could trying to find the right combination of talent to get some explosiveness into the offense. We'll never know exactly what Braylon Edwards would have done in this offense, but losing him to a knee injury ended any chance of finding out for sure. Michael Crabtree had the most snaps on offense (65%), while Ted Ginn Jr. was second (34%) and Kyle Williams was third (27%). Joshua Morgan had the most snaps at wide receiver prior to his injury.
Ted Ginn is an interesting discussion point for the 49ers in part because he value has not generally been as a wide receiver. He gets a fair number of snaps as a receiver, but his real value in his two years in San Francisco has been as the team's kick and punt returner. Prior to Ginn's arrival, the 49ers were a mess at the position. After Allen Rossum's departure, Arnaz Battle and company were a veritable horror show on punts. Over the last two seasons, Ginn has been one of the best return men in the game, making him a steal with the fifth round pick the 49ers gave up.
In looking back at Ginn's 2011 season, grading his performance will likely depend on how you value what he brought in each aspect of the game. As a return man he did a fantastic job. His season highlight was his return of a kick return for a touchdown, followed by a punt return for a touchdown in the season-opening victory over the Seattle Seahawks. While he did not return any other touchdowns, he had a strong season in the return game.
On the other side of things, he had his ups and downs as a wide receiver. He caught 19 passes for 220 yards (long of 26 yards) and also ran eight time for 68 yards (long of 24 yards). His overall athleticism makes him a great guy once he gets the ball in his hands, but he has struggled as a receiver in the NFL.
My favorite plays involving Ginn were his use in reverses and other quick passes that got him the ball and into some space. The 49ers can't run reverses all the time, but I'm surprised they did not work Ginn into space a bit more. Even a few more wide receiver screens could have opened up some space for big gains.
As Ginn enters free agency, I'm curious to see how the market shapes up for him. People know he is one of the best return men in the league, but will he get a significant payday given his inconsistencies as a wide receiver? We saw the importance of a solid return man in the playoffs, but it remains to be seen if the 49ers will pay any sort of premium for Ginn. If you were Trent Baalke, Jim Harbaugh and Brad Seely (special teams coordinator) how would you handle Ginn's free agency?