The San Francisco 49ers have bolstered their wide receiver corps, as they prepare for the upcoming season.
Veterans Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree will be the starters. In 2013, Boldin led the 49ers with 85 catches for 1,179 yards and seven touchdowns.
This past season, Crabtree played in only five regular-season games, due to injury. He did come on a little in the playoffs, but was not the dynamic player he was in 2012. Crabtree is just one year removed from that breakout year in 2012, when he caught 85 passes for 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns.
Perhaps the most significant position battle on the team will be the third wide receiver spot. The four top candidates for the job are Stevie Johnson, Brandon Lloyd, Quinton Patton and Bruce Ellington.
Patton is the lone incumbent on the roster and already knows the playbook and nomenclature, which gives him an advantage. Although Patton battled injuries in 2013, when he did play, he showed potential. The majority of his playing time came in the 49ers' exhibition games, however.
Patton was selected in the fourth round of the 2013 draft and only played in six games. He caught three passes for 34 yards.
Veteran Brandon Lloyd began his career in San Francisco back in 2003. He played three seasons for the 49ers, catching a total of 105 passes for 1,510 yards.
Lloyd's best season came in 2010, when he caught 77 passes and led the league with 1,448 yards. However, Lloyd sat out all of last year and is now attempting to make a comeback. He will be 33 years of age in July.
Unless Lloyd can decisively beat out the other candidates, his age and contract situation make him more expendable than the others.
As reported by Rotoworld.com, Lloyd signed a one-year deal for $955,000, plus a $50,000 workout bonus. If the 49ers cut him before the start of the season, the $955,000 will immediately come off the books and the 49ers will not count that against their salary cap.
In the midst of the 2014 draft, general manager Trent Baalke made a bold move to acquire veteran wide receiver Stevie Johnson from Buffalo. The 49ers traded a conditional fourth-round pick in 2015 to the Bills, which could end up being a third rounder, if Johnson performs well.
Johnson played six seasons with the Bills and had over 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons, from 2010-2012. He had a down year in 2013, catching only 52 passes for 597 yards. When Buffalo drafted receiver Sammy Watkins, Johnson became expendable.
With experience playing on the outside or in the slot, Johnson should also be quite motivated to play well. He is originally from San Francisco and now, gets a chance to play with a contender.
Michael Crabtree will be a free agent, following the 2014 season and there is no guarantee that he will remain a 49er. In addition, Anquan Boldin will be 34 years of age in October.
Johnson will be 28 years of age in late November, so he should have several productive years left. He is also excellent insurance for the 49ers, should they lose Crabtree in the free-agent market. (All NFL stats are courtesy of pro-football-reference.com.)
The final candidate is a long shot. The 49ers selected Bruce Ellington in the fourth round, the 106th player taken overall. Ellington has good speed and the ability to make plays. At only 5'9" and 197 pounds, Ellington would be a good fit for the slot receiver.
Ellington also has experience returning kickoffs and punts, which makes him even more valuable. His play will go a long way to determining the future of LaMichael James with the 49ers.
However, as a rookie, it will be extremely tough for Ellington to win the third receiver job.
The battle for the third receiver spot will be a tough fight. Barring injuries, look for Stevie Johnson to emerge victorious.
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