If you still don't think wide receiver and cornerback top the list of 49ers' offseason needs, consider the parade of free agents heading through team headquarters this week. The latest is another wideout, Emmanuel Sanders, who had 67 catches, 740 yards and six touchdowns in 10 starts for the Steelers last season. He's already visited the Jaguars and Buccaneers and was in Kansas City today.
Of the group of receivers linked to San Francisco - it includes Julian Edelman and Hakeem Nicks - Sanders has the best deep speed, something the team could use against defenses that stack the line of scrimmage against their running game. Sanders ran his 40 in 4.41 seconds in 2010.
Still, as with the other free-agent wideouts, it's hard to see how the 49ers would fit Sanders into an offense that will start Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin in 2014. While three- and four-receiver sets are all the rage in the NFL, the 49ers have gone retro with their alignments, preferring instead two-tight end sets or a fullback. Three wide receivers? Including playoff games, the 49ers used that formation 21.8 percent of the time in 2011, 18.8 percent of the time in 2012 and 22.8 percent of the time last season, according to stats from Pro Football Focus.
The league average for three-receivers sets is 54 percent.
The 49ers like 2013 draft pick Quinton Patton and are expected to add at least one wideout in a May draft that is deep at the position. A good free-agent receiver could expect to be part of a rotation just as Randy Moss, Ted Ginn, Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams were during 2012. This led to frustration from Moss and Ginn following the season. Ginn notably had 556 yards and five touchdowns as Carolina's third receiver last season, and he signed a three-year deal with Arizona yesterday.
If the 49ers don't have a big role in mind for a free-agent receiver, it also raises the question of how much they will pay that receiver. As of today, the team is a little less than $4 million under the salary cap.
- Matt Barrows