The San Francisco 49ers are gradually becoming an explosive, high-octane offense. That is a far cry from where they were two years ago when the focal point revolved around Frank Gore and the ground game. In order to evolve into the aerial attack that the 49ers aspire to become, they’ll need a deep threat at receiver or two. But can anyone on the roster take on that role?
Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin are penciled in as the starters. However, they are possession receivers who excel in making plays on shorter routes. A complement to them is needed, someone who can stretch the field. Last year, the 49ers only averaged 12.3 yards per reception, which ranked them 24th in the league.
With injuries affecting Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams, their status to even begin the season is in doubt. Assuming they are not ready by training camp, that leaves the team with Quinton Patton, A.J. Jenkins and Ricardo Lockette as the primary candidates to compete for the deep-threat role.
Since Patton is a rookie and does not possess elite speed, he may not be an ideal fit as a downfield target. He’s more of a slot receiver who uses his quickness to generate yards after the catch. Even though he averaged a respectable 14.3 yards per reception at Louisiana Tech, he posted a 40-yard dash time of 4.53 seconds. NFL safeties have no need to fear him running by them. That’s not to say that Patton won’t be a productive wideout, it’s just not his strength to go vertical.
Considering the fact that the 49ers spent last year’s first-round pick on Jenkins, they hope that he can contribute and put 2012 behind him. The second-year wideout was a burner at Illinois, so he already has the talent to fill the position. While he experienced some difficulty grasping the offense as a rookie, he worked out with Colin Kaepernick throughout the offseason to gain a better understanding of their scheme.
Lockette, a former Seattle Seahawk, is a dark horse who could emerge in this race. After spending last season on the 49ers practice squad, he will get an opportunity to make his way onto the final roster.
Despite recording only two career receptions, Lockette made the most of them. In 2011, the 6’2’ wideout hauled in a 44-yard catch against the 49ers; the following week, he topped that mark by notching a 61-yard touchdown reception against the Arizona Cardinals.
There is not much ink on his resume. But in his brief playing time, he showed that he could make plays downfield. Lockette is in the midst of a crowded receiving group, so he must work nonstop just to be worthy of consideration.
The 49ers have a collection of young, unproven pass-catching options at their disposal, which makes for an intriguing position battle throughout the offseason.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh lives by an assortment of sayings. One of them that he often refers to states that “As iron sharpens iron, so does one man sharpen another.”
While the role has yet to be cemented in stone, the player who emerges from the pack will have rightfully earned it.