San Francisco 49ers: 4 Reasons Jim Harbaugh Must Sign a Free-Agent WR

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San Francisco 49ers: 4 Reasons Jim Harbaugh Must Sign a Free-Agent WR
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
The Niners want to have more options for a better overall passing game, so Michael Crabtree might have more competition in 2011.

With a final team total of 79.4, the San Francisco 49ers ranked 21st overall in pass efficiency in their 6-10 2010 season. There were other statistics that had a deeper impact on the team’s fortunes, but there is no doubt that new coach Jim Harbaugh will want to get more bang out of his passing buck this season.

Much of the criticism of the lack of more consistent, effective passing has been focused on quarterback Alex Smith, whose played the majority of games last year that ended with San Francisco ranked 29th in the league in completion percentage at 56.4.

In contrast, New Orleans completed a whopping 68.4 percent of its passes, and therein is the faulty foundation of a struggling San Francisco offense.

More completions mean more yards and more first downs, begetting more plays, resting the 49er defense while stressing the opposition’s. Finally, this dynamic places the opposition’s offense at its most ineffective position – the sideline.

However, passing offense reflects a squad’s completeness. The offensive line has to realize the rush schemes and maintain the pocket. The quarterback has to understand the pass coverage schemes and make the right pass to the right player. The receivers have to recognize the coverage and adjust accordingly. Finally, there’s the issue of catching the ball.

Also, there’s so much beyond the above that goes into a team’s pass rating. A quarterback can throw a quick sideline hitch to a receiver who outruns everyone to the end zone for a 60-yard TD. Or the quarterback can throw an arching bomb downfield, a play that takes a long time develop, putting lots of pressure on the offensive line as well as the need for greater accuracy on the throw.

The latter requires more overall team play than the former, but the outcome is the same. It’s just the former is an easier, faster way to get more bang from each pass. Either way, it is a good platform from which we can analyze whether the Niners need a receiver who has the capability to make more big plays.

Sidney Rice, Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards and Steve Smith, to name a few, are available as free agents once the lockout ends. Coupled with the team’s struggles in the pass game last year, here are four reasons why Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke must sign a free agent receiver.

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