When the 49ers talent evaluators are at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis over the next several days, they’ll be looking for a lot of things.
But one need is paramount: speed.
As Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle noted this week, the 49ers scored just three touchdowns in three games against the Seattle Seahawks this past season, and part of that is due to a lack of game-breaking speed on offense.
“It’s clear the 49ers’ passing attack could use an infusion of explosiveness,” wrote Branch.
As evidence, Branch pointed to San Francisco’s failure to produce big plays in the passing game. The Niners ranked 22nd in the league in passing plays of 20 or more yards (46). Only four of those plays came against the Seahawks, wrote Branch.
So when it comes time to evaluate wide receivers and tight ends at this year’s Combine, the Niners will be looking for players who can stretch defenses; players who can get behind coverage and make yards after the catch.
As Branch pointed out, the addition of a speed wideout to complement wide receivers Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin (if he re-signs) could force the Seattle secondary to play farther back and open up underneath routes for Crabtree, Boldin and the tight ends, while also making big downfield gains.
“With that in mind, it wouldn’t be a shock if the 49ers used their first-round pick on a speed receiver,” he wrote.
If the 49ers do go in that direction, it’s certainly a good year for it. NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said this week that this crop of wide receivers is perhaps the best in many years.
Though Sammy Watkins is considered the best wide receiver in the group, he’ll be long gone by the time San Francisco picks at No. 30 (unless they move up). But projected lower-round wideouts such as Brandin Cooks of Oregon State, Odell Beckham of LSU, and Allen Robinson of Penn State all are believed to have the speed the 49ers want.
That won’t be official, however, until the receivers run the 40-yard dash in Indianapolis. This Sunday will be the day the wide receivers, running backs and quarterbacks go through their drills and run the 40.
While the 49ers could very well use their No. 1 pick on a receiver, they are expected to have a dozen choices, so they could also reach for another in the third or fourth rounds, too.
Mayock said he believes there’s significant talent available at wide receiver through the third and fourth rounds.
Expect the 49ers to be looking for anyone who will be able to add some breakaway speed to the 2014 passing attack.