The 49ers were 30th in the NFL in passing last season, thanks to injuries to players like Michael Crabtree and Quinton Patton and a general lack of depth behind them. The end result saw the 49ers finish with an average of only 186 yards per game through the air. The nadir came against the Carolina Panthers in Week 10, when the 49ers were held to only 46 total passing yards, their worst total since 2005.
Gone, however, are Kyle Williams, Mario Manningham and Marlon Moore. In are rookie Bruce Ellington, ex-Buffalo Bill Stevie Johnson and former 49er Brandon Lloyd. The revamped receiver unit has been turning heads already, with NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks rating it as the fourth best in the NFL before they even take a snap.
According to Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News, quarterback Colin Kapernick has raved about the new arrivals, saying that he’s “very excited about the new targets…a lot of weapons on this field now.”
Stevie Johnson one-upped Kaepernick, saying that, “Right now...we’re all ones. The defense has gotta pick their poison, whether they’re going to double-team Anquan, whether they’re going to double-team Crab, Vernon (Davis), me, Q.P. is coming in – you gotta pick your poison.”
While the 49ers only used three wide receivers on 21 percent of plays last year, by far least in the NFL, the revamped receiving group should lead to the team to at least approaching the 21st century—51.2 percent of all plays in the NFL last season had “11” personnel—one running back, one tight end and three receivers.
While the 49ers don’t look to turn into a pass-happy offense anytime soon, we should see more of the passing game in 2014.
There aren’t too many spots to be won on the depth chart; past performance, contractual obligations and recent draft capital spent have essentially earned five players roster spots, leaving only a couple spots remaining for the rest of the players who will start training camp. Will Lloyd earn one of those slots, or will the 49ers go with a younger player who can contribute on special teams? Who will earn the third and fourth receiver slots?
Let’s break down the current depth chart at wide receiver as we eagerly await the beginning of the 2014 season.