According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, the San Francisco 49ers have signed Chris Harper to a three-year deal. Harper was drafted in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL draft by the Seattle Seahawks, but was recently cut, per Jeffrey Graber of KWCH 12.
If there's anything to learn from this signing, it's that the Niners are in need of offensive weapons.
Harper played three years with the Kansas State Wildcats, catching 58 passes for 857 yards and three touchdowns in 2012. Those may not seem like impressive numbers, but Harper played in a run-heavy offense led by quarterback Collin Klein—a Heisman Trophy candidate not known for his passing ability.
The 49ers confirmed the signing via Twitter.
If San Francisco is signing Harper to a three-year contract, then there's clearly belief in his abilities within the organization.
Harper is a dynamic athlete, standing at 6'1" and 229 pounds with the speed to get behind a defense. He does an excellent job of using his size to his advantage, both shielding defenders and working for position by using his body to gain the edge.
As a result, Harper fits the bill of what the 49ers need on offense.
With size, strength and notable explosiveness, Harper is the type of player who can step in and contribute in a wide variety of manners. Not only can he help space the field out, but Harper can throw blocks and work the short-to-intermediate game.
As Chris Trapasso of Bleacher Report alluded to on Twitter, Harper is the prototypical player to fill the void left by the departed Delanie Walker.
I remember you wondering/suggesting Jon Baldwin in the Delanie Walker role. Sounds like that'll be Chris Harper. @DylanMacNamara— Chris Trapasso (@ChrisTrapasso) September 2, 2013
One way or another, someone will need to fill Walker's shoes.
Walker caught 21 passes for 344 yards and three touchdowns in 2012, which certainly doesn't jump off of the page. With that being said, Walker was a versatile player for the 49ers, lining up and blocking for the running game and quarterback, and also breaking out for receptions as a second tight end.
It also illustrates how thin San Francisco is at wideout—dangerously thin.
According to Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee, the 49ers will be without leading receiver Michael Crabtree until at least November. Crabtree suffered an Achilles heel injury on May 21, which is not only debilitating, but career-threatening.
Crabtree is expected to make a full recovery, but he's also projected to miss at least eight games.
Can Chris Harper replace Delanie Walker in San Francisco?
To make matters worse, Barrows reports that Mario Manningham will be out until mid-October, at the earliest. Despite missing four games, Manningham was second on the team in receptions and third in yards during the 2012 regular season.
With its top two receivers injured and one of the most critical offensive weapons, Walker, departed, the 49ers are quite thin.
Colin Kaepernick has superstar expectations, but if the 49ers are going to reach the Super Bowl for the second consecutive season, San Francisco will need its receivers to step up. While there is reason for encouragement, it's currently a two-man receiving corps that will carry the Niners through the first half of the season.
Wide receiver Anquan Boldin is one of the most reliable players in the NFL, and torched every team he faced during the 2012-13 NFL playoffs—including San Francisco. Tight end Vernon Davis has star potential, but caught 26 less passes in 2012 than in 2011.
And that's the extent of the certainty, if you can even call it that.
Tom Pelissero of USA TODAY Sports reports that San Francisco cut Austin Collie and Lavelle Hawkins, creating a greater sense of turmoil. The 49ers will now rely on one of Jon Baldwin, Kyle Williams or rookie Quinton Patton to step up as the No. 2 receiver.
That's exactly why Harper has value.
At this point, there isn't anything separating Baldwin, Patton or Williams from Harper but reps in practice. Baldwin and Williams have minimal success as an NFL receiver, and Patton is a rookie, giving him just as little experience as Harper at the NFL level.
In other words, this is an open battle.
Once Crabtree and Manninghamm return from injury, we'll be looking at a different story. Unfortunately, that's months away for Crabtree and at least one month for Manningham, leaving the 49ers with a difficult road ahead offensively.