The wide receiver position was one of great need heading into the off season. After a rash of injuries to Joshua Morgan and Ted Ginn Jr. coupled with the late season release of Braylon Edwards. The 49ers were down to just Michael Crabtree, Kyle Williams and Brett Swain in the NFC Championship game. The underwhelming group produced just one catch for three yards. An overhaul was needed at the position, to say the least.
The 49ers added veterans WRs Randy Moss and Mario Manningham while retaining Ginn in the off season. With the 30th pick in the draft, the team addressed the position once again with the selection of AJ Jenkins out of Illinois. The pick was a bit surprising with both Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill and Stanford tight end Coby Fleener available. The organization seems quite confident in their selection of Jenkins as they were last year with perceived reach Aldon Smith who later proved to be a great selection. Jim Harbaugh revealed that general manager Trent Baalke put Jenkins name in an envelope the night before the draft and said this is who we’re picking. The Niners got their man. The competition is on.
With Crabtree, Manningham, Moss, Ginn, Williams and now Jenkins all in the fold the competition for playing time will be fierce. The selection of Jenkins looks like it could spell the end of Kyle Williams in SF. Williams who fumbled away the 49ers chances at a super bowl birth now faces an uphill climb to make the roster. The 49ers like big, physical receivers typically and won’t keep three small wideouts.
Ginn should be considered a near lock to make the team as their primary punt and kick return man. Crabtree, although underwhelming in the playoffs had his best overall season under Harbaugh and has the best chance of any in the group to lock up a starting spot. Manningham might be the most accomplished NFL receiver with a chance at a long term career with the 49ers. Stuck behind two pro bowl caliber receivers in New York, Manningham brings first round talent and some big moments to the 49ers. He will have as good a chance as any to become a star.
The two hardest to predict are Moss and Jenkins. WRs, like QBs typically need a year or two to adjust to the NFL. But the recent success of rookies like the Bengals AJ Green puts pressure on young receivers to step in and produce early in their careers. Jenkins is a burner and may be the only player on the roster that can consistently stretch an NFL secondary with his speed. Ginn has top end speed but has never produced as an NFL WR. Moss is past his prime, if he catches on and has success with the 49ers it will likely be as a red zone and third down type guy. He may be able to get over the top on occasion but I don’t see him dusting defenses consistently like he did in his prime. Manningham has some speed but is not the type of guy that strikes fear in defenses with his blazing speed.
Some fans on Twitter and others in the media have criticized the 49ers for not getting someone in the draft that would immediately help on third downs and in the red zone. I have more trust in the organization. I believe they feel with Moss and Manningham added to Crabtree and Vernon Davis they will be fine in those areas. One thing nobody can deny is that the team didn’t have a receiver with Jenkins’ makeup on the roster before draft day.
For those of you that still have questions in your mind about the Jenkins selection, consider this.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported the Rams liked Jenkins so much that his grade wasn’t much different than the one their scouting department placed on Justin Blackmon, whom the Jacksonville Jaguars selected with the fifth overall pick. The Rams were expected to take Jenkins with the first pick of the second round, according to the report.
WR is no longer a weakness and the battle for playing time and passes should be fun to watch. How do you think the roster will turn out come week one?
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