Everybody knows the 49ers need to strengthen their receiving corps. Here are four ways they can do it:
1. The draft. In the two drafts he’s conducted, general manager Trent Baalke has shown that he likes to draft players with upside in the first round, Aldon Smith last year, Anthony Davis the previous year. He will also draft for need — but only if they’re good players. Smith filled a need for an outside pass rusher, Davis and Mike Iupati the need for offensive linemen.
The 49ers traded up to get an extra pick in 2010. Their chances of doing that this year, considering their low draft position, are very slim, so they won’t have a shot at the top receivers in the draft. But history shows that teams have picked up good receivers in lower rounds or even as undrafted free agents, as Wes Welker was. So I suspect Baalke will pass on receivers in the first round — one mock draft has him going for Clemson defensive tackle Brandon Thompson.
There is a wild card, though: Stanford tight end Coby Fleener. Coach Jim Harbaugh likes big, athletic tight ends and he coached Fleener in college. Fleener is projected to go between 25 and 30 in the first round, so the Niners may have a shot at him.
2. Veteran free agents. The 49ers tried this with Braylon Edwards last season. Early, on “49ers Preview” on KPIX (Ch. 5), Tim Ryan and I talked about how Edwards could be a real weapon on the fade pattern in the end zone, leaping high for an Alex Smith pass.
But Edwards battled injuries most of the season, and his me-first attitude irritated Harbaugh. When he got healthy, Harbaugh cut him.
So you can bet that any veteran free agent coming to San Francisco will have to check his attitude at the door.
Two who intrigue me are Vincent Jackson from the San Diego Chargers and Marques Colston from the New Orleans Saints. Jackson is the kind of tall, fast receiver who is difficult to defend. Colston could come cheap because other receivers who have left the Saints have not lit up the stat sheet, suggesting that their success had been because of QB Drew Brees, not their own efforts.
3. Trades. In a previous column, I suggested a trade with the Raiders for Louis Murphy, still a good idea.
4. Exploring their own roster. Josh Morgan seemed headed for a breakout season before he broke his ankle in the fifth game. His contract is up but I don’t think it will be difficult to re-sign him because his value on the free agent market, after his injury, would not be high.
Kyle Williams, who also has to be re-signed, showed flashes of being a big-play receiver, and he showed admirable poise after being blamed for the loss of the NFC Championship Game. Ted Ginn Jr. should be primarily a kick returner; he’s too shaky on catching passes or running the right routes to be a reliable receiver.
The 49ers came very close to the Super Bowl after the 2011 season. An improvement in their receiving corps could get them there after this season.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A look at possible free-agent receivers the 49ers could make a run at this offseason and their stats from last season:
- Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh Steelers, 72 catches, 1,193 yards, 8 TDs
- Mario Manningham, New York Giants, 39 catches, 523 yards, 4 TDs
- Vincent Jackson, San Diego Chargers, 60 catches, 1,106 yards, 9 TDs
- Marques Colston, New Orleans Saints, 80 catches, 1,143 yards, 8 TDs
- Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City Chiefs, 81 catches, 1,159 yards, 5 TDs