The San Francisco 49ers head into their 2012 training camp in late July loaded with deep depth at two positions: running back and wide receiver. The latter will be the most intriguing position battle of the two because there is no guarantee who will be No. 1 or No. 5 on the depth chart at wide receiver. At running back we all know Frank Gore will be the main back, with Brandon Jacobs and Kendall Hunter No. 2 and 3 respectively. Rookie LaMichael James will make the team at the No. 4 spot with Anthony Dixon most likely the odd-man out. At wide receiver the depth chart is not as set as running back, but with the recent minicamps we are starting to get a clearer picture of who will rank where.
After voluntary and mandatory minicamps, the top two starters on the depth chart at wide receiver are Michael Crabtree and Randy Moss. Crabtree is coming off career highs in receptions (72) and receiving yards (874) and will be entering training camp with no injuries for the first time in his career. Also, if the injuries stay away he will play in his first preseason game of his career which will allow for him and quarterback Alex Smith to develop a connection on the field. Barring an injury or Crabtree having a horrible training camp, he will be the 49ers No. 1 receiver.
Moss will most likely start opposite Crabtree based on how he has played at the minicamps. The receiver has not conducted an interview but the praise from fellow players and coaches has been nothing but positive. Still, there is some caution with this as the minicamps did not have any contact or pads. In addition, Moss last played in the NFL in 2010, on three different teams. If he can keep it up through training camp there is no reason why he shouldn’t be the No. 2 receiver.
Should Moss falter in training camp, there is Mario Manningham who can take over as the second receiver. Manningham is more suited as the No. 3 receiver, which he played successfully while in New York, so unless there is an injury or Crabtree or Moss have a horrible camp, this is where he will be penciled in.
The No. 4 spot on the receiver depth chart will be a competition between Kyle Williams, Ted Ginn and rookie A.J. Jenkins. Williams has been hard at work since the debacle in the NFC Championship game. Last season Williams showed he is a capable receiver with great quickness after the snap and is good at running routes. Ginn has shown he can be a reliable receiver but the reason he will make the team is his return abilities on punts and kickoffs. The 49ers have guaranteed $500K of Ginn’s one-year contract he signed in the offseason, but does that mean he is guaranteed a roster spot? The only way he does not make the team is if another returner emerges like LaMichael James, but something tells me Jim Harbaugh will not want to place all of the responsibilities in a rookies hands. Expect Williams to win the competition at the No. 4 slot.
Then there is first round draft pick A.J. Jenkins. The rookie will make the team but he will be No. 5 on the depth chart. The 49ers have the luxury of not needing Jenkins to have a breakout rookie season because of their depth at receiver, however, it would still be nice for him to have a great training camp to push the issue for the coaches figuring out the position battle. Injuries are inevitable, especially at wide receiver, so Jenkins will need to have a solid training camp after two dismal minicamps if wants to move up the depth chart during the season.
Having a crowded bunch at wide receiver is a good thing for the 49ers, particularly because they lacked depth last season after Joshua Morgan broke his leg and Braylon Edwards proved to be a dud. Williams’ fumble aside, the 49ers lost their chance to go to a sixth Super Bowl because they did not have any depth at wide receiver and thus could not rely on them to make plays on offense. With the signings of Moss and Manningham, and the selection of Jenkins, the 49ers don’t want to be faced with that situation again.