Is Randy Moss the missing link? 

click to enlarge Rolling the dice: The 49ers took a chance on formerly retired 35-year-old wide receiver Randy Moss in the offseason, and so far he’s made a good impression at camp. - US PRESSWIRE FILE PHOTO
  • us presswire file photo
  • Rolling the dice: The 49ers took a chance on formerly retired 35-year-old wide receiver Randy Moss in the offseason, and so far he’s made a good impression at camp.

The 49ers weren’t sure what they were getting when they signed 35-year-old Randy Moss out of retirement, but they felt the low-risk investment could pay off in a big way for an offense that was boxed in by its average collection of downfield targets.

Moss, entering his 14th season, has impressed quarterback Alex Smith and coach Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh’s evolving offense will be more intricate in his second season with the 49ers — and first with a full offseason for installation and full team workouts before training camp this month — in part because of Moss, free-agent addition Mario Manningham and first-round pick A.J. Jenkins.

How fond is Harbaugh of Moss? He told SiriusXM Radio host Rich Gannon that Moss is the team’s "best receiver" entering camp.

Smith’s top targets last season, Michael Crabtree (72 receptions) and Vernon Davis (67 catches, team-high six touchdowns) made occasional big plays downfield, but combined to average less than 12 yards per reception.

Josh Morgan, who went down with a broken leg after leading the team with a 14.7 yards-per-catch average, left via free agency, opening the spot for Moss. Manningham is likely to begin the 2012 season in the slot and Jenkins will cross-train at multiple positions with a future as a starter as soon as midseason.

The 49ers aren’t trying to build an offensive juggernaut — they outscored opponents 380-229 last season and still plan to win with smash-mouth defense and a power running game — but they’ve found a mix of offensive weapons that should serve a few purposes. For one, Smith will have more options and can get rid of the ball with greater urgency. His 90.7 passer rating last season was as much a credit to his risk-averse approach (five interceptions, 7.1 yards per pass attempt) as it was an indictment of his milquetoast receiving corps.

Crabtree hasn’t lived up to lofty expectations as a top-10 draft pick but Harbaugh said he has great hands, and can be a top receiver in the NFL.

Davis is unmatched as a downfield threat because of his combination of size, agility and explosiveness. He’s in the mold of Antonio Gates and, with more options outside, could easily catch 80 passes in Harbaugh’s possession-conscious offense.

If Harbaugh is right, and Moss finds the form that he showed in 2009 with the Patriots (13 touchdowns), the 49ers’ touted Super Bowl credentials could be much more than offseason conjecture.

— The Sports Xchange via Reuters

 

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