Will it be Devin Thomas, Mario Manningham or Limas Sweed? Early Doucet or Malcolm Kelly? DeShaun Jackson or James Hardy? Which of these receivers will the 49ers take at pick No. 29? My guess – none of them. Despite a big need for a future No. 1 receiver, I don’t think the 49ers will try to find one in the first round, and here’s why:
Top-tier receivers are historically hard to find, especially if you don’t have a Top 10 pick. There have been 43 receivers taken in the first round in the last 10 drafts. Of those, nine have been to a Pro Bowl. Of those nine, only two – Javon Walker in 2002 and Reggie Wayne in 2001 – weren’t selected in the first 10 picks. Walker was selected No. 20 overall; Wayne went No. 30 overall.
Well, what about Mike Martz? Doesn’t he want better receivers at his disposal? Well, sure. But my sense is that he’d rather have another bookend offensive tackle and will say as much if the personnel staff asks him. Two of Martz’s best receivers over the years have been Torry Holt (no. 6 overall in 1999) and Roy Williams (no. 7 in 2004). But he’s also had great success with Isaac Bruce (2nd round 1994), Mike Furrey (undrafted 2000), Kevin Curtis (3rd round 2003) and Shaun McDonald (4th round 2003).
The point is that Martz can find a productive receiver just about anywhere in the draft. And this draft is teeming with solid mid-round prospects. Heading into the Senior Bowl, for example, Adarius Bowman, Doucet and Sweed were the three big names. The players who came up biggest during practice and in the game, however, were Lavelle Hawkins, Andre Caldwell and Harry Douglas. There’s also Eddie Royal, Earl Bennett, Josh Morgan, Dexter Jackson, Donnie Avery, Jordy Nelson … the list goes on.
Here’s another reason: Koren Robinson. He was a Scot McCloughan guy with the Seattle Seahawks in 2001. Robinson should have been great – he had size, speed, good hands, excellent college production. But he had some troubling off-the-field issues involving alcohol, and that’s what sunk Robinson’s career. Robinson came out of NC State as a junior and McCloughan and the Seahawks simply didn’t know enough about him. That experience has made McCloughan wary of juniors in general (one of the reasons the 49ers are heavy on Senior Bowl alums) and wary of junior receivers in particular. Thomas, Kelly, Jackson, Manningham and Hardy all are juniors. Sweed and Doucet are seniors who struggled through injuries in their final season.
Great news! Gerry Austin is one of two NFL referees who will be retiring. The other is Larry Nemmers. Niner fans, of course, will remember Austin for the head-scratching explanation in Pittsburgh last season involving Vernon Davis and Troy Polamalu that all but halted the 49ers’ second-half momentum. ESPN’s Mike Sando, who is to stats what Michaelangelo was to paint (and who used to be a newspaper guy before being tempted by the Dark Side), writes that Austin suffered a league-high 13 replay reversals in 2007. And that’s not a good stat. So in addition to being wrong (a lot), Austin committed what I consider the cardinal sin -- slowing down the game.
-- Matt Barrows