Rebuilding 49ers Receiving Corps No Simple Task
It's no secret that 49ers quarterback Alex Smith could use a little help from his "friends".
Fifth-year wideout Arnaz Battle led the team with 600 yards—perfectly acceptable production for a second-option receiver in a pedestrian offense, perhaps. Considering the failure of his teammates Jackson and fellow FA addition Ashley Lelie, Battle's numbers weren't enough for a franchise that hoped their two FA signings would form one of the NFC West's speediest tandems.
Jackson, who missed only a single game but suffered all season from nagging hamstring injuries, reached the end zone just three times.
Lelie, who signed a two-year, $4.3-million deal in the offseason and was expected to land a starting job, stumbled to his worst season of his career, with a mere 10 catches for 115 yards.
Nolan won't get a chance to address his team's personnel needs, of course—that job belongs to newly promoted general manager Scot McCloughan, who hopes to reignite San Francisco's offensive fire without shoving any players down the coach's throat.
And though his free-agent options at wide receiver seem woefully thin—once you look past the mercurial Randy Moss, that is—McCloughan needs to bolster his receiving corps with at least one veteran addition.
Here are a few names he might consider...
Bernard Berrian, Chicago Bears
While Berrian, 27, is unlikely to be confused with Moss anytime soon, he remains the second-best wideout in this spring's pool of unrestricted free agents.
He posted career bests in receptions (71) and receiving yards (951) this year, and though he had four fewer catches of 40-plus yards than he did during his '06 campaign, Berrian boasts sure hands to match his blazing speed—a combination that should appeal to pass-happy offensive coordinator Mike Martz.
Drew Carter, Carolina Panthers
A four-year veteran whose rookie season was erased by a knee injury, Carter, 26, has the speed to be an elusive force in the NFL, even if he lacks the physical presence (and, possibly, the desire) to go over the middle.
With four touchdowns in 2007, he outscored Jackson and Lelie combined, and the Niners could do worse than providing Smith with a legitimate deep threat with star potential.
Devery Henderson, New Orleans Saints
After posting 745 receiving yards and five touchdowns in '06, Henderson suffered a dramatic regression this past season. Then again, so did the rest of the Saints—especially first-round pick Reggie Bush, who did little to open up the passing game with his lackluster rushing.
It's a little early to give up on the 25-year-old Henderson, who still averaged 20.5 yards per catch during a frustrating year for the boys from the Big Easy.
Andre' Davis, Houston Texans
The Texans are actively trying to re-sign Davis, whose career was brilliantly resurrected in Houston. Should they fail, the 49ers would be wise to court the veteran receiver and special-teams standout. Davis amassed 700-plus kickoff return yards and one score in '07.
Bryant Johnson, Arizona Cardinals
Who? The 26-year-old Johnson is the forgotten man in Arizona's passing attack, a slot receiver who languishes on the depth chart behind Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin.
At 6-foot-3, he's tall enough to challenge even the stingiest corners for a jump ball, and he has earned a reputation for running his routes and catching the ball when targeted.This year, he reeled in 46 passes for 528 yards and two scores.
Whether he would flourish as a starter remains to be seen, but Johnson's veteran intangibles and consistency—he's notched 35 catches in each of his four NFL seasons—should be worth a look.
Randy Moss, New England Patriots
Last but not least, Moss clearly will be the most talented receiver on the market, assuming the Patriots refrain from slapping him with the dreaded franchise tag. Still, one has to wonder whether the 30-year-old Pro Bowler would welcome a return to the Bay Area, and whether the Niners, in the midst of rebuilding, would stoke his competitive fires. (The answer? Probably not.)
McCloughan's best option, at least where Bill Belichick's ultra-deep stable of receivers is concerned, would be to wait and see. If the marriage of Brady and Moss proves a solid one, New England could very well lose one of its less heralded wideouts—Donte' Stallworth, or perhaps, Jabar Gaffney.
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