The additions of Mario Manningham and Randy Moss has led me to believe that the San Francisco 49ers are not going to go wide receiver in the first-round of this month's NFL draft. This is extremely surprising considering that many "experts" assumed San Francisco was going to go in this direction just a month ago.
Free agency does indeed shape what teams are going to do, and the Niners' offseason is a prime example of that.
However, there is a belief that San Francisco needs to look toward the future at this position. Moss isn't going to play much more than two seasons with the 49ers—if that many. Manningham only signed a two-year contract, and Michael Crabtree just hasn't lived up to expectations.
The major issue with gong wide receiver in the first round is that it isn't a position that will make an immediate impact in 2012. You are probably looking at a rookie receiver challenging Kyle Williams and Ted Ginn for the No. 4 receiver spot in an offense that rarely utilizes four-receiver sets.
With all that said, this draft is loaded with potential at wide receiver. So, let's take a look at the prospects that I think would be the best fit for the 49ers at wide receiver.
Stephen Hill, Georgia Tech
Questions remain about his ability to make an immediate impact due to a limited route tree in college. This shouldn't be held against Hill unless he showed an inability to run those routes in postseason events, which he didn't.
With that said, you do have to be somewhat worried about the "workout warrior" factor. This happens every single draft season. Someone that was flying under the radar picks it up big time as the draft approaches. In doing so, he is reached for well before he should be. Darrius Heyward-Bey in 2009 and Ted Ginn, Jr. in 2007 are prime examples of this. They showed flashes of brilliance at the combine and other postseason events. These two haven't quite been dominating receivers at the NFL level despite going early in their respective drafts.
However, Hill has all the physical ability to be a true No. 1 receiver at the next level. He uses that prototypical frame to shield defenders from the ball down field and can create a great amount of separation on the intermediate routes. What I like most about Hill as he relates to the 49ers is the fact that the receiver can make the big plays and stretch the defense. This is something that has been missing in San Francisco since Terrell Owens was a Niner.
Kendall Wright, Baylor
Pretty much a perfect fit as a slot guy for the 49ers. Wright was extremely solid last season with Baylor and helped Robert Griffin III a great deal on the outside and between the hashes. He can stretch the field and already possesses the ability to run nice tight routes.
The issue with Wright is the fact that he has the same exact frame (5-foot-10 and 190 pounds) as Kyle Williams, who figures in the 49ers future as a slot guy. There really isn't a need to duplicate that type of player in their system, especially considering how Harbaugh doesn't often turn to four wide receiver sets.
Probably the least likely of any of these receivers to go to the 49ers. This is due to a combination of Wright most likely going well before No. 30 and the fact that San Francisco already has a couple slot options on the roster.
Brian Quick, Appalachian State
My favorite wide receiver in the entire draft, Quick would be a great fit in the Red and Gold. He has the size and skill set to be a truly dynamic player in the 49ers' offense.
You are looking at someone that stands at 6-foot-3 and weighs over 225 pounds. This is pretty much the same frame as one of the greatest receivers in 49ers history, Terrell Owens.
Quick might struggle initially because of a limited route tree at Appalachian State. With that said, he didn't show any issues in this regards at the combine running the gauntlet drill. Quick possesses soft hands and will be dominating at the point of contact. He doesn't struggle getting off of press coverage and can beat defenders deep on the outside.
He will become an immediate threat on fades in the red zone, something the 49ers struggled with a great deal in 2011. Right now, I have Quick with a late first-round grade, believe it or not. However, there is a possibility he does drop to San Francisco in the end of the second round. If that happens, I see no scenario that would enable them to pass up on the talented receiver.
Rueben Randle, Louisiana State
A victim of horrible quarterback play at LSU, Randle possesses a few different attributes that I know San Francisco is looking for in a receiver. He already runs some of the tightest routes in the entire draft, he can get separation at the line and he has soft hands.
My primary issue with Randle is the fact that he doesn't play as fast as his 40-yard time might suggest and isn't a major deep threat. With that said, he is a strong receiver that translates better on the outside; something San Francisco is in search for.
I personally have Randle with a mid-second-round grade. This means that he would be a reach at No. 30 and probably won't drop to No. 61. Definitely one of those tweener prospects that plague teams that are drafting in the bottom of each round.
Marvin Jones, California
Another player that was victim of horrible quarterback play, Jones is a real wild card here. Some mocks suggest he is worth an early second-round pick, while others don't have the California product going until as late as the fourth round. It looks like he is going to go somewhere in between, which could mean that the talented receiver could be available to the 49ers at No. 61.
He already has run pro-ready routes, and he utilizes his frame to shield defenders from the ball. One of my favorite aspects of Jones' game is the fact that he can pretty much catch everything thrown his way.
Zach Maynard might have been one of the least accurate quarterbacks in college football last season, and yet Jones still found a way to catch those balls that were thrown at his feet and behind him. This goes to show you how the receiver is able to adjust in mid-flight and come down with the ball. Michael Crabtree, among other Niners, struggled with this in 2011.
I wouldn't be adverse to the 49ers spending the No. 61 pick on Jones depending on how the draft played out. While he doesn't translate to being a true No. 1 receiver, Jones will be a solid starter in the National Football League.
Nick Toon, Wisconsin
This talented receiver was considered a lock for the first round during the 2011 season. He has since struggled a great deal to prove that he can make it at the next level. Toon isn't great getting off the line against press coverage, struggles with his route running and isn't going to be a dynamic play maker in the NFL.
He does bring the size that San Francisco has been missing on the outside and is physical at the point of contact down the field. It will take a lot of coaching up in order for Toon to reach his true potential and make an impact at the next level. My primary issue with the Wisconsin product is that he has had that coaching throughout his life in the form of his father, Al Toon, who starred in the NFL for eight seasons with the New York Jets.
You either have the capability our you don't, and I am not sure that the younger Toon does. With that said, taking a flyer on him in the fourth round would be a low-risk-high-reward proposition.
Jeff Fuller, Texas A&M
Another player that has seen his stock drop dramatically after being considered a first-round prospect less than a calendar year ago. Much like Toon, the Texas A&M product hasn't been able to realize his true potential since coming on strong two seasons ago.
Fuller doesn't play anywhere near what his build would suggest and struggles catching the ball cleanly on the outside. At this point, I project Fuller to be nothing better than a fifth-round pick. He is on the list because of that 6-foot-4 frame and the fact that he was successful in college.
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