All eyes were on the wide receiver position when the 49ers opened training camp, and the glare only has intensified in the three weeks since. Here's my best guess/analysis on where things stand at the position.
In my mind, there are three locks for the 53-man squad. Anquan Boldin obviously is one of them. He's the only reliable, veteran option, and he and Colin Kaepernick already have established a strong rapport. The 49ers should send Boldin on a three-week Viking Cruise to the fjords of western Norway to ensure he's healthy for the season opener. Welcome back! Here's the game plan for Green Bay ....
The other two locks, according to me, are Kyle Williams and Quinton Patton. No, Patton hasn't gotten to show off his skills because of a broken forefinger (Damn you, Kaepernick fastball!), but as Jim Harbaugh says, the arrow is up for this eager, hard-working youngster. Williams, meanwhile, is smart, savvy and badly wants to be on the field. He's also the only player on the team with any real experience at punt returner. The 49ers want LaMichael James to win that job, but it's smart to have a capable backup.
Ok, that's three players. The 49ers likely will go into the season with five or six receivers on the roster. They had six at the start of last season, for example. For the sake of argument, let's say that Mario Manningham (knee) and Michael Crabtree (Achilles') remain on the physically unable to perform list at the start of the season. If that's the case, they will not count against the 53-man limit. Still, the team expects both to be activated at some point during the year.
Who gets the last few spots? Both Marlon Moore and Kassim Osgood have been consistently good on offense and both have true added value as coverage guys on special teams. Would they keep both players given their overlapping talents? Maybe. But if they had to choose one, my guess is that they'd go with Moore, who is considerably younger (and because of that has more upside) and who is faster, a better downfield threat and thus a better complement to Boldin.
After that comes Austin Collie. Aside from Boldin, he's the only healthy(ish) receiver on the roster who has been a steady contributor at the position in the past. The early signs have been good. Collie is picking up the offense quickly, made two big catches against Denver and seems focused and eager to resume his career. The risk, of course, is his propensity for injuries, especially concussions. Collie still hasn't gone full bore due to last year's knee injury. Still, all signs are pointing in the right direction for him.
That's six receivers (or five, if it's either Osgood or Moore) and there are still five more players to talk about.
One of them is a guy named A.J. Jenkins. Have you read anything about him lately? His potential is undeniable. He's very quick, very fluid. He gets up to top speed quickly, etc., etc. But he simply hasn't been one of the six best receivers in training camp. If the 49ers keep him, they will say it's because they believe Jenkins has a bright future. But that will be a tough sell to the five or six others who are cut and to the remaining players in the locker room, who will privately conclude that Jenkins' first-round status bought him another year on the roster. One more note about Jenkins: He gives the team almost no value on special teams.
One of the players who would feel that sting is Chad Hall, the team's leading offseason receiver when April-August catches are tallied. Hall entered camp physically and mentally sharp, and he's earned the trust of all the quarterbacks. But he also was a summer star in Philadelphia, and those accolades didn't amount to much in the regular season. Hall, who spent most of last season on the practice squad, is not eligible for the squad this season.
A practice-squad spot could go to Ricardo Lockette. His array of skills - speed and size - show up from time to time. But they are merely flashes, and the wideout still is not consistent enough. Lockette declined an offer to join another team's 53-man squad late last season. If the 49ers waived him in order to put him on the practice squad, would he get snatched up by another club?
The final two players are newcomer Lavelle Hawkins and undrafted rookie Chuck Jacobs. The 49ers could find a spot on the practice squad for the latter, who has been a nice spark in training camp and who has managed to stay healthy depite weighing less than 180 pounds.
Having written all that, there are still three - count 'em, THREE! - three more preseason games, and thus plenty of opportunities for movement. All it takes is Jenkins to catch one 80-yard bomb from Kaepernick to solidify his spot on the roster.
- Matt Barrows