WR: Michael Crabtree, Stevie Johnson, Bruce Ellington
WR: Anquan Boldin, Quinton Patton, Brandon Lloyd
TE: Vernon Davis, Vance McDonald, Garrett Celek
Let’s just be perfectly frank about the first part of this next contingent: It wouldn’t have even deserved honorable mention if this list reflected the opening half of last season.
Of course, with all due respect to one Anquan Boldin.
Kyle Williams was a total non-entity before being released. Mario Manningham was never healthy before officially being put on IR. And Jon Baldwin and Marlon Moore were…well…oh, it’s not even worth mentioning.
Now, two players who returned in the latter half of 2013 will elevate the 2014 wide receiver corps to levels as of yet unseen in the history of this franchise.
A rather unfair haul of offseason additions certainly doesn’t hurt either.
Michael Crabtree, the unquestioned No. 1 and Kaepernick’s most trusted target, will bring full operational status into Week 1. Unlike last season, he’ll produce touchdowns and 100-yard outings beginning in September—as opposed to December and January.
Moreover, fourth-round pick Quinton Patton couldn’t make an impact until Week 17 due to an assortment of injuries. The sure-handed, smooth route-running wideout will instead provide the 49ers with absurd value at the No. 4 spot on the depth chart.
Wait, No. 4 on the depth chart?
Boldin is the obvious go-to weapon behind Crabtree. The beastly, catch-everything receiver returns from a year in which he racked up 1,179 yards and seven scores. Those totals, along with his 85 receptions and 13.9-yard average, all qualified as fourth-most in his illustrious 11-year career.
Meanwhile, Niners general manager Trent Baalke executed two absolute steals over the second two days of the draft.
He first traded a lowly mid-round conditional pick to the Buffalo Bills for Stevie Johnson. The accomplished vet averaged over 1,000 yards and nearly eight scores from 2010-2012 before succumbing to injuries and poor quarterback play last season.
He’ll offer toughness and reliable separation underneath for Kaepernick.
Baalke then greeted the 49ers faithful on the morning of the draft’s final rounds by selecting Bruce Ellington at No. 106 overall. The former South Carolina stud will torch defenses with his speed and quick-twitch abilities.
Ellington will compete with Patton for the fourth spot and will at the very least infuse this offense with situational game-changing production.
Having Crabtree, Boldin and Johnson as his top three receivers will give Kaepernick ample opportunities in the underneath-to-middle portions of the field. Patton and Ellington will complement those horizontal targets by stretching the field in vertical directions.
And if any of those guys aren’t on their toes leading up to the regular season, the still-viable Brandon Lloyd is waiting in the wings. The 11-year athletic dynamo has impressed both Kaepernick and head coach Jim Harbaugh during OTAs, according to Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com.
As for tight ends, the 49ers are sufficiently flush with talent.
Vernon Davis is arguably the best all-around player at his position.
He ranked second in both yards per catch (16.3) and touchdowns (13) while playing in a run-oriented offense. He also amassed the sixth-most yards (850), despite logging just 834 snaps in 15 games.
But two things place him above fellow league stars Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski. First is his durability and second is his far superior work in both pass and run blocking.
Graham continually plays at less than 100 percent, and Gronk has missed 14 games since 2012, compared to Davis’ one. The reputable minds at Pro Football Focus (subscription required) also awarded Davis a plus-1.0, while giving the other two a combined minus-8.6 in their proprietary blocking metrics.
Davis’ questionable brand-enhancing tour on the ESPN campus and my digressions with NFL player comparisons aside, No. 85 is the perfect downfield weapon for No. 7. Kap’s elite arm combined with Davis’ unrivaled combination of strength and speed deem this a match made in gridiron heaven.
Throw in a soon-to-be much-improved Vance McDonald in year two and serviceable Garrett Celek and San Francisco’s tight end contingent is rock solid. Each one can block, catch and operate with a high football IQ in Harbaugh’s complex system.
All told, the 49ers wideouts and tight ends are deep, dynamic and downright deadly on the field. They’ll help turn Kaepernick into a better quarterback and will greatly improve the Red and Gold this season.
It’s just that one particular group will so do to a slightly greater extent in 2014.