When the San Francisco 49ers acquired Anquan Boldin in March, their depth at wide receiver was the least of their concerns.
But with Michael Crabtree out indefinitely with a torn Achilles—which is likely to keep him sidelined for at least the first two months of the season—they have more questions than answers at the position.
Boldin will almost assuredly be the No. 1 option to begin the 2013 season. The other starter is entirely up in the air.
The following five players are candidates to climb to No. 2 on San Francisco's wide receiver depth chart.
Kyle Williams posted on Instagram that he's received a green light by his doctor about his knee, via NinersNation.com. Although this is a positive step for Williams, some athletes need two years to return to form after an ACL tear.
Even if Williams is healthy, he doesn't project as a big-time threat on the outside. Due to his smaller stature, he figures to line up mostly in the slot.
In 2011, Williams had the 41st-best score in Pro Football Focus' wide receiver rankings (subscription required), accumulating much of his stats in the slot. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman gushed about Williams' ability in slot early in the 2012 season, via CSN Bay Area.
"A lot of times in the slot, you're going to end up running routes on a defender and it's either the first read or you got to get open quick in a short area," Roman said. "He excels in that area."
Expect Williams to make the team and see lots of time as the slot receiver in three-wide receiver sets if healthy. Essentially, he has a great chance to be the No. 3 receiver, but not the No. 2 wideout in San Francisco's base sets.
Jim Harbaugh seems genuinely intrigued by Ricardo Lockette.
"“I’m really looking forward to Ricardo Lockette’s progress,” Harbaugh said in March, via the San Francisco Chronicle. “I can’t wait to see what he does. A real inflection point for him is coming.”
Harbaugh said on 95.7 The Game that Lockette, Quinton Patton and A.J. Jenkins will battle for Crabtree's playing time while Mario Manningham and Williams are injured, via Pro Football Talk.
Lockette is a burner, putting up a 4.37 40-yard-dash time at the 2011 NFL combine. The 6'2", 211-pound wideout spent most of the 2012 season on the San Francisco practice squad, where he likely learned much of the 49ers playbook.
Harbaugh has been known to play games with the media, but I don't think his praise for Lockette is a joke. I believe he's going to give him a fair chance at starter's snaps if Manningham isn't healthy.
Nothing about A.J. Jenkins' college tape overly impresses me. Sure, he has great speed and sure hands, but he's not the all that big, strong or explosive after the catch.
The 49ers reportedly loved that he has massive hands when they drafted him, but they possibly misjudged his overall talent.
Now, the 2012 first-round pick is under pressure to perform in his second season. Jenkins reportedly bulked up a bit this offseason, but are we to expect that a few pounds of muscle and year of learning is the difference between being a non-factor and a starting wide receiver?
I'm not buying it.
Jenkins should see the field his fair share when a third or fourth wide receiver is needed, but the next receiver might just be the more talented prospect even though he was picked three rounds later.
He may not have the top seed that Jenkins has, but Patton appears much more explosive on tape. He makes catches in traffic and excels at juking defenders after the catch.
Like Jenkins, Patton needs to bulk up (only eight bench press reps at the combine); however, he was the more physical player in college.
My guess is Harbaugh and the coaching staff will fall in love with his feistiness. Patton has natural route-running skills in the red zone, and at the very least he should be utilized there this season.
Mario Manningham wasn't tearing up the stat sheet in 2012, but he was having a sneaky good season before his knee injury.
His overall score on Pro Football Focus was higher than Victor Cruz, James Jones and Dez Bryant's. A big reason for his high score was his catch percentage. Of the 55 times he was targeted, he made 42 catches. The 76.4-percent clip was fourth-best in the league.
To put it simply, he'll be starting if he's healthy by the beginning of the 2012 season. But will he be?
He tore his ACL and MCL in late December. Although he's reportedly running and cutting, he may not be ready by Week 1. And even if he does play, there's no guarantee he'll have the same explosiveness he had in 2012.
If Manningham is healthy by Week 1, I'd be surprised if he isn't the No. 2 receiver. However, I'm guessing he'll sit out the first few games, which opens the door for Lockette, Jenkins and Patton.
Between Jenkins and Patton, I believe the former Louisiana Tech star has the edge. It's possible that the Niners were giving Jenkins a year to learn with the intent of giving him a prominent role in 2013. But when the coaches see Patton making plays in training camp, I believe they'll want to get him on the field as much as possible.
Lockette is the biggest wild card of all. I bet he makes the team and sees the field early in the season before Manningham is healthy. However, he's a long shot to beat out both Patton and Jenkins, players the Niners used draft capital on.
Don't expect any decision on the starter to come anytime soon. Harbaugh and Co. will likely take their time evaluating all the receivers before coming to a consensus on the No. 2 wideout before Week 1.
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