For nearly 20 years, the San Francisco 49ers were privileged enough to have Hall of Famer Jerry Rice render the wide receiver position as an unquestioned dynamic in the Bay Area.
Although, from roughly 2003 on, it has been a roller coaster that has seen first-round busts, free agent whiffs, old-timers hanging on by a thread and mid-rounders that just weren’t quite good enough.
On May 22, after the position was finally believed to be settled following the rise of Michael Crabtree last season, the No. 1 wideout went down with an Achilles tear.
At the moment, the understanding is that Crabtree, the club’s reining 1,000-yard receiver, will ride the PUP list, aiming for a late-season return that will potentially see him back for what may be another postseason run.
For comparative purposes, Ravens LB Terrell Suggs suffered a full Achilles tear in April of 2012 and was activated from the PUP in late October of that same year for Week 7 at Houston, where he finished with one sack and three tackles.
Judging off that timeline, Crabtree, who was injured in May, could very well be ready by late November or December. While each individual is different, this 7-8 month timetable lays the groundwork for what is indeed possible.
However, if he is not ready, San Francisco will not rush him back because a hurried return could push his recovery backward. As they forge ahead, head coach Jim Harbaugh and his staff will have to account for a significant season-long void on offense.
Subsequently, this all makes for a rather intriguing storyline in training camp, manifested in the form of an open competition at WR.
And the 49ers will proceed accordingly:
In the 2012 season, San Francisco carried a total of six wide receivers, which, outside of Crabtree, was comprised of Randy Moss, Mario Manningham, Kyle Williams, Ted Ginn, Jr. and an often-inactive A.J. Jenkins.
Jenkins, who was the 49ers’ first-round pick last year, did not dress until the team endured injury at the position.
Now, without their star player, the Niners will likely carry six receivers outside of Crabtree—leaving them to de-activate someone or send someone back down to practice squad upon No. 15’s return to the lineup.
In the meantime, and for the purpose of this article, we will focus on what is the re-tooling of San Francisco’s wide receivers and the new-look corps that will storm the field in 2013.
Before we begin, here are a few things to note:
- Since the installation of the new regime, the 49ers have been building an up-tempo spread offense with West Coast elements.
- The wide receivers are mostly unproven, yet all have the ability to reach their ceiling with quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
- There are different style receivers competing, but the majority of them are slot-type receivers.
- In San Francisco’s system, which constantly rotates players, the slotted number on the depth chart only means so much. In 2012, Randy Moss was technically a starter, but he only played 40.4 percent of the offensive snaps.
The following piece will provide a scope of the revamped receiving corps, including their styles, backgrounds and what makes them unique. Moreover, it will definitively project the 2013 depth chart at WR.