In the last decade, the 49ers have selected five receivers in the first three rounds of the draft. Four of them - Jason Hill, Brandon Williams, Rashuan Woods and Derrick Hamilton - had little to no impact and were quickly dismissed. The fifth, Michael Crabtree, is reaching a crossroads.
While Crabtree certainly hasn't been a bust, it's still unclear whether he is worthy of someone drafted 10th overall. The 49ers are anticipating more clarity on the subject in 2012 for two reasons.
The first is that Crabtree has the chance to have a full offseason for the first time since joining the 49ers. "I think it's obvious you get better at football by practicing football," Jim Harbaugh said on Thursday. "Much like you don't get to Carnegie Hall without a lot of practice. So for him to have the benefit of an offseason and OTAs and training camp like he's never had.... He's going to have an opportunity this year, which he has not had and not of his own doing."
That's not exactly true. While Crabtree's 2011 training camp was wiped out because of a broken foot and his 2010 preseason marred by a neck injury, his 2009 training camp and preseason was wiped away by a lengthy contract dispute that dragged into the regular season.
The second reason for Crabtree optimism involves the wideout playing opposite him. Aside from Crabtree, the 49ers had no consistency at the position in 2011, largely because of injuries. Crabtree took 65 percent of the offensive snaps last year followed by Ted Ginn (34 percent), Kyle Williams (27 percent), Joshua Morgan (23 percent), Braylon Edwards (22 percent), Brett Swain (6 percent) and Joe Hastings (2 percent).
The theory, at least, is that a steady No. 1 or No. 2 receiver in 2012 not only will give Alex Smith more targets, it will open up possibilities for Crabtree, who was suffocated by press coverage and double teams, especially in the playoffs when injuries had wiped away half of the 49ers receiving corps.
This year's draft is deep in receivers, especially in Rounds 2-5, and many of them will be on hand today. The free-agent class also promises to have plenty of options at receiver.
"Obviously when you have only two guys under contract for next year, it's an area you have to address," GM Trent Baalke said. "Both Teddy (Ginn) and Josh (Morgan) being unrestricted free agents, that leaves us with two guys under contract. It definitely is an area that needs to be addressed. And whether we address it with our own in re-signing or whether we address it with other free agents that are available or whether we do it through the draft or a combination remains to be seen."
-- Matt Barrows