By the end of last season, the 49ers corps of wide receivers had become the thin red line.
With Braylon Edwards released and starter Joshua Morgan out for the year with an injury, San Francisco had very little depth at the position as the team entered the postseason.
Adding talent and depth at wide receiver became an offseason priority for General Manager Trent Baalke.
Now, as the team prepares for the opening of training camp next month, the Niners appear to have a wealth of options.
As ESPN.com’s Mike Sando noted last week, the Niners now are the only team in the NFL with four first-round receivers on the roster: Michael Crabtree, Randy Moss, Ted Ginn Jr. and 2012 rookie A.J. Jenkins of Illinois.
In addition, the team’s signing of free agent Mario Manningham and retention of Kyle Williams should make for a very competitive training camp.
“They’ll all make each other better,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman told Len Pasquarelli of The Sports Xchange last week after the team concluded its spring workouts. “They can feed off each other.”
One likely starter at this point would figure to be Crabtree, the 10th overall choice from the 2009 draft out of Texas Tech who led the team with 72 receptions in 2011 for 874 yards but had just four TDs and a career-low 12.1 yards-per-catch average. Moss – who sat out last season but reportedly looked good in spring camp – might be the other.
Though Moss has been dogged by a sour reputation for much of his career, his new teammates on the Niners have raved about how he’s fit in, how hard he’s worked and how talented he remains.
When 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio talked about Moss following the team’s mandatory minicamp, it didn’t even sound as if Moss were the same person so many other teams have had on their rosters.
Fangio called Moss a “down to earth” football player.
“He has really been as good as you can possibly ask for in terms of being totally engrossed in football,” he told ESPN. “He’s a throwback.”
Niners safety Donte Whitner believes the addition of Moss, Manningham and Jenkins and the retention of Crabtree, Ginn and Williams makes for what he calls “an explosive group” – especially when tight end Vernon Davis is in the mix.
Though the 49ers favored a conservative approach to offense last season, they now have the ability to run many more three-receiver sets to open up defenses.
“There are not going to be many people who can double cover and put a safety over the top because you have other weapons,” Whitner told Sando. “Plus, you have a running game.”