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Michael Crabtree is feeling healthy and running well
The wide receiver position was the worst position unit the San Francisco 49ers had in 2011. Only Michael Crabtree caught more than 20 passes out of the Niners' entire wide receiver group.
This offseason, the 49ers dramatically upgraded this position. Although they did not land one of the high profile free-agent wide receivers like Vincent Jackson, Mike Wallace, Steve Johnson, Reggie Wayne, Marques Colston or Dwayne Bowe, they have improved significantly.
The 49ers took a calculated risk by signing Randy Moss, who sat out the entire 2011 season. At his best, Moss was a superstar and one of the most dangerous receivers in the league. However, Moss is now 35 years old, and we'll see how he holds up over a long season.
Thus far, Moss has looked good and been on his best behavior. If that continues throughout the year, he will have been a steal. He has also been a mentor to the 49ers' younger receivers and seems to have built a bond with Michael Crabtree.
The 49ers also signed former NY Giant Mario Manningham. In 2011, Manningham had a down year, with 39 receptions for 523 yards. Manningham's best season was in 2010, when he caught 60 passes for 910 yards and a career high of nine touchdowns.
These two will combine with Crabtree and will be the top trio of receivers for the 49ers. Last year, Crabtree caught 72 passes for 874 yards, the best season of his career.
I was also impressed by Crabtree's improved professionalism and team focus, which I believe can be attributed to Jim Harbaugh's no-nonsense approach. Crabtree had previously acted like a diva, and his selfish attitude would not fly under Harbaugh.
The 49ers selected receiver A.J. Jenkins with their first-round pick. Jenkins had a great season at Illinois with 90 receptions for 1,276 yards and eight touchdowns. This was even more impressive considering the fact that Illinois played a run-oriented offense and was a poor passing team.
Jenkins displayed good hands and excellent speed at Illinois. He and Moss should definitely be able to stretch the field and open up the underneath routes for Crabtree and Manningham, who are more suited to be possession receivers.
The 49ers will likely keep six wide receivers, and the final two spots will come down to Ted Ginn, Kyle Williams, Brett Swain and rookie Chris Owusu. Ginn is not a good receiver, but he adds great value as a return man.
Williams showed promise last year but has to overcome the mental images of the two costly turnovers he committed in the NFC title game against the Giants. Williams has also battled nagging injuries, and he will need to have a good summer to ensure he keeps his roster spot.
Swain enters his fourth NFL season but has only caught eight passes in his career. He is a long shot to make the team.
Owusu is an interesting prospect. He has tremendous athleticism and great speed. However, Owusu had trouble with dropped passes while at Stanford.
The biggest concern about Owusu, however, is concussions. He suffered three severe concussions in a 13-month period, which is why he was not drafted in 2012 NFL draft. Owusu will need to prove he can hang on to the football and also take a big hit without getting hurt again.
My best guess is that Ginn and Williams will make the team. Owusu will most likely be a candidate for the practice squad.
Although there is no true No, 1 receiver on the 49ers' roster, the good news is they have made substantial improvement at the wide receiver position. The quality of talent and the depth have both increased.
Wide Receivers Grade: B+