The competition for quarterback may be over, but there are still battles to be won. Many believe for the first time in years, the 49ers have a deep wide receiving corps. Thanks to Michael Crabtree’s holdout, the young receivers have an opening to showcase themselves. Most of the players fighting for six or seven positions, have played two or fewer seasons. However, there’s really only two or three spots up for grabs because of the current incumbents.
Isaac Bruce is the only receiver going into the season knowing he will start. Although Bruce will be 37 this year, and I will never fully forgive him for what he’s done to the 49ers as a treacherous Ram, he is as reliable as they come. At least he performed well for his new team, which is more than I can say for Darrell Jackson. Bruce led the team in receiving in receptions, yards, touchdowns…well, everything. I’m happy he’s back and hope the young corps takes advantage of working with a future hall of famer.
Josh Morgan has been given the starts in the past two preseason games. Morgan has speed, but he is still rather raw at route running and his hands fail him at times. He is talented though; probably has the most upside of all the rostered receivers.
If you’re talking about speed, look no further than Jason Hill. He ran a 4.32 40 at the combine, one of the fastest 40’s ever. The knock on his game is similar to Morgan, he is too inconsistent. His focus has been questioned in the past. That’s something Mike Singletary can work on. With Shaun Hill throwing passes, the Hill to Hill connection could be strong this year. I see Hill as a number 3/4 receiver this year, and eventually could be the successor of Isaac Bruce’s spot.
Now for my favorite receiver on the team, Arnaz Battle. Believe it or not, Battle is the most tenured skill position player on the team. He’s been with the 49ers since 2003 when they took him in the sixth round. Battle is consistent and has reliable hands. In the 2006 season, Battle was the only player in the NFL with 40 or more catches to not have a dropped pass. He fills the role of possession receiver perfectly. If facing a 3rd down situation, there’s nothing else I’d call than a quick inside slant to number 83. In fact, of his 173 career receptions, 105 of them have been for first downs. I see Battle as the only slot receiver on the team, and his fearlessness on the field shows at all times. No one slashes through the middle or fights for that extra yard like he does. Although he lacks the upside the youngsters have, there is no understating what a reliable veteran can bring to your team.
Brandon Jones and Dominique Zeigler figure to win the fifth and sixth spots. Jones however might only be a 49er for one season like Bryant Johnson. I still can’t figure out why they brought him in so early in free agency. If the WR starved Titans didn’t want him, why should the 49ers? I’m sure they regretted it once Crabtree fell to number 10. His injury also opens up the door for one of the hopeful receivers listed below. As for Zeigler, the undrafted rookie free agent from last year was able to get some playing time, flashing potential at times. His average yards per catch was almost 20. He could transform into a nice deep threat. His experience in punt returning will help him win one of the last spots on the roster.
Mark Bradford, Chris Francies, Maurice Price, and Micheal Spurlock are trying to take advantage of the Crabtree holdout and Jones injury. All are former undrafted free agents looking for the opportunity to prove themselves. They found the challenge and must find a way to distance their names from the competition. Of the four of them, Spurlock has the best chance of making the team. As a former college quarterback, Spurlock can be used in the new Taser formation. Although that doesn’t guarantee anything as the 49ers also have former quarterbacks Michael Robinson and Arnaz Battle on the offense. But according to Matt Maiocco of the PressDemocrat.com, “Spurlock has outperformed Jason Hill in practice, and has placed himself into position to be considered for a roster spot.” These young wide receivers may get a chance this year to play in a game or two, but more than likely will see their snaps on the practice squad.
I like our receivers this year and don’t see them as a weakness. I truly do believe this team has what it takes to compete for the division. As long as they provide solid, consistent output, the running game and defense will take care of the rest.