For the San Francisco 49ers to avoid the same fate as the early 90′s Buffalo Bills, they’re going to need more than just Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin to catch passes from second year starter Colin Kaepernick.
Coming off of two seasons where they could have easily won the Super Bowl, the 49ers are definitely searching at the position as displayed by their recent signings and having Davis work with the wide receiving corps in training camp.
Boldin had a great postseason last year but only caught 65 passes and a meager four touchdowns in the regular season. Davis also had a career worst year, netting only 41 receptions and five touchdowns in 2012.
While both figure to be targeted much more than last year, the 49ers are going to need some unexpected production at the wide receiver and/or tight end position to take that next step from perennial contender, to Super Bowl champion.
Recently signed wide receiver Austin Collie has shown that he can be a very effective slot receiver. However, after multiple concussions in his career and a patellar tendon injury that required surgery this past season, counting on Collie for more than a few games in any season is probably expecting too much.
AJ Jenkins and Kyle Williams did return to the practice field Sunday, and both still have largely unknown ceilings as wide receivers. Jenkins comes off of what amounted to be a redshirt year for him after catching zero balls in 2012, while Williams has shown flashes of big play ability mixed with inconsistency in his young career. Neither should be considered as sure fire contributors in 2013.
A rookie that has slipped under the radar of most but may prove productive is fourth round pick Quinton Patton out of Louisiana Tech University, who is currently nursing a broken finger. Patton didn’t play at a big school, but his 21 catches and four touchdowns against Texas A&M last year certainly caught the 49ers attention. Patton is a solid route runner with great run after the catch ability, who – if healthy – could be a solid contributor in the slot if and when Collie goes down.
With the loss of stud Michael Crabtree for most of the year and former Super Bowl hero Mario Manningham set to remain on the PUP list for at least part of the year, the 49ers may turn to a two tight end set, and subsequently rookie Vance McDonald to snag some catches.
The 6’4 inch 267 pound McDonald has been working with a few of the 49ers offensive lineman to refine his blocking skills, but has also displayed great hands early on in camp. If McDonald has a strong preseason, the two tight end set may be the smartest option the 49ers have to stem the tide until the return of Crabtree and Manningham.
While it remains unclear where the production will come from, the 49ers desperately need a relative unknown at receiver or tight end to step up in 2013 if they are going to avoid the haunting “what if?” questions the Bills of twenty years ago still face today.