San Francisco 49ers Passing Attack: The Case For Jordan Shipley

Joseph BurkeyAnalyst IMarch 24, 2010

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 5:  Jordan Shipley #8 of the Texas Longhorns is stopped by Phillip Dillard #52 and Larry Asante #4 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers for a 15-yard penalty in the final minutes of the game at Cowboys Stadium on December 5, 2009 in Arlington, Texas.  Texas won the game 10-6.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

After the line has been addressed, after the secondary has been patched, after a pass rusher (or two) has been recruited, after Frank Gore's backup/change-up/successor has been found, and after the QB situation is settled—then what?

It is only after these issues are solved that the future of SF's passing weapons will be called into question. 

Arguably the most talented tight end in the NFL plays in San Francisco.  A wide receiver was taken in the first round of last year's draft, and when he finally suited up in red and gold, he was effective immediately.

There are several backup WR's on the roster who are adequate targets with reasonable blocking skills, but lack a certain "go to" quality.

Two years and about four weeks ago, then-49ers GM Scott McCloughin passed (twice) on a wide receiver out of the University of California. This receiver soon became a standout for the Philadelphia Eagles, the team that drafted him. He burned corners and safeties without hesitation, and returned kicks and punts as if he's been doing it for years.

The 49ers Faithful still remember that missed pick, and in the wake of McCloughin's departure, should seek redemption.

I'm obviously talking about DeShaun Jackson here, and he figures to be an Eagle for a while. There has been a void at our WR spot ever since.

This void seemed patched last April, when young Michael Crabtree fell to SF at the 10th overall pick.  When September came around, however, and Crabtree remained unsigned, the Faithful again became restless.  Although Crabtree did eventually sign in time for a 24-21 loss to the Houston Texans in late October, the concern that Crabtree will not be happy to stay with the 49ers lingers in the minds of 49er fans.

On the other hand, Vernon Davis had a coming out party in 2009. Davis, who had been labeled a "head-case" and teetered on being labeled a bust—prior to Coach Singletary's magical brain washing—could possibly demand a salary larger than what SF will be able to afford in a couple years.

And so it is that the need for drafting young talent at every position is a constant, while at the same time a young player who can come in and produce immediately is the gold GMs and scouts are continuously prospecting for.

I believe Jordan Shipley to be made of such rookie gold. A sixth-year senior, he is only slightly younger than Alex Smith. Coming from Texas, he's not stranger to football at a high level. 

Shipley holds almost every major high school career receiving record for the state of Texas, including career receptions (252), receiving yards (5,424), and receiving touchdowns (73). Do I need to reiterate, this is Texas—where high school football is nutritionally considered to be a healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner? 

In 2000, in his first varsity game as a freshman at Rotan High, Shipley totaled 454 all-purpose yards and returned 3 punts for touchdowns. Shipley helped lead the Burnet Bulldogs to back-to-back Class 3A State Championship games in 2002 and 2003.

College didn't slow Shipley down too much. Shipley had a stand-out game in the 2008 Texas-Oklahoma football game against the No. 1 ranked Sooners. He returned a a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown; it was the longest kickoff return in the 103-year history of the Red River Shootout. He also caught a touchdown pass, and the Longhorns won 45–35. On October 25, 2008, Shipley set a Texas Longhorn record for receptions, catching 15 passes for 168 yards as No. 1 Texas defeated No. 6 Oklahoma State 28-24.

Shipley was a senior in 2008, but filed paperwork with the NCAA to request an extra year of eligibility to make up for games missed due to injuries. On December 22, 2008 the NCAA granted Shipley's hardship request for a sixth season. Following the 2008 season, Shipley underwent shoulder surgery for what he stated was "an injury I aggravated a couple of times during the year, but was able to play through. I worked hard to rehab it and kept playing. But now that I have time, I got it cleaned up and can get back to full strength for next season."

Shipley proved to be a vital member of the 2009 Texas Longhorn football team, including scoring a touchdown off of a Texas Tech punt in the Longhorns' 34-24 victory. On November 7, 2009, Shipley caught 11 passes for a school record 273 yards during a home game against the University of Central Florida Knights.

Shipley's play during the season helped lead Texas to the 2009 Big 12 Championship Game against Nebraska. He caught 7 passes for 71 yards in the 13-12 win and helped Texas earn a spot in the 2010 BCS Championship Game.

But is was in this BCS Bowl where Shipley really sold me.  After his Quarterback, Heisman candidate Colt McCoy, went down with a shoulder injury that left his throwing arm looking like a dead snake, Texas' backup Garrette Gilbert came in only to prove ineffective for the first half.  Then, Shipley emerged.

The Wideout caught 2 TDs to bring Texas within a field goal of tying the game. A fumble later iced the loss for Texas, but it was one of the most heroic performances by a WR in recent memory—to throw your team on your back in the biggest of big games and nearly pull it off shows character and poise. The only other player in that game to shine for Texas and never give up was likely first-round pick Sergio Kindle (who I would also advocate as a good pickup for SF).

Shipley will drop, however.  A modest combine (16 reps on the big bench, and a 4.6 Forty time) is going to decrease his draft value. Additionally, he has shorter than ideal height and weight (5'11'', 193 lbs.)

But he has slot receiver written all over him to me. Quoting "He is explosive off the line and runs extremely crisp routes that allow him to separate from defenders with a good short burst. He is a natural when it comes to adjusting to off-target throws and will go over the middle to catch the ball in traffic. If he had better top end speed he would be pretty much the total package."

They once said if Jerry Rice had better speed, that he would be the total package (blasphemous comparison, I know).  And although WR is not considered a need given the style of offense SF coaches and coordinators have planned, Kick returner is.  And the prevailing philosophy of "iron sharpens iron" makes me want him on the team even more, if for no other reason than to push Jason Hill and Josh Morgan to be productive.

My final concern is: can he block?  Sort of.  Will he block? Certainly.

He'll be a steal in the third, or a gamble in the second, but I see this lucky number—one of if not the most mature senior in the draft—paying off big, and immediately.