Prior to the return of Michael Crabtree, the San Francisco 49ers struggled to find another receiving threat not named Anquan Boldin or Vernon Davis. The team tried a myriad of options to give quarterback Colin Kaepernick another weapon to throw to, but none panned out.
How bad was it? The team’s third leading receiver behind Boldin and Davis was fullback Bruce Miller, who caught 25 passes in 14 games. Crabtree finished fourth with 19 receptions over five games but beyond that, no 49er receiver or tight end made any kind of an impact. Kyle Williams, Mario Manningham, Jonathan Baldwin, Quinton Patton, Marlon Moore, Kassim Osgood, Garrett Celek and Vance McDonald combined to make 39 catches for 440 yards and didn’t score a single touchdown.
The 49ers understand that this lack of production is a problem and may have stunted the development of Kaepernick. He struggled throwing the ball for most of the season, averaging 154 yards passing in Weeks 2-10. He rebounded in the season’s final six games to up that average to 232 yards a game, and it’s no coincidence that Crabtree was playing in five of those contests.
To remedy the issue, San Francisco looked into receivers such as Julian Edelman, Hakeem Nicks and Emmanuel Sanders this offseason, but none of them were an affordable option given the team’s current salary cap status. It’s unlikely that the newly-released DeSean Jackson will be a realistic option either.
Look for the Niners to add a receiver early in the draft, possibly as high as the first round. They could use someone with speed who can take the top off of the defense and give Boldin and Crabtree room to work underneath. It’s also necessity to find a wideout they view as a starter sooner rather than later, as Crabtree is in the last year of his contract and may not be back after 2014.