Starter Michael Crabtree, the team's No. 1 wide receiver last season, won't be fighting for a job this summer.
Michael Crabtree? Certainly.
Randy Moss, A.J. Jenkins and Mario Manningham? Yes.
But Kyle Williams, Ted Ginn Jr., Brian Tyms, Nathan Palmer, Brett Swain, Chris Owusu or Joe Hastings? Well, put them down for “maybes.”
When it comes to the San Francisco 49ers roster and the number of wide receivers fighting for a spot on the team for opening day in September against the Green Back Packers, it’s obviously a numbers battle.
Since 2003, ESPN.com’s Mike Sando, who covers the NFC West, notes that San Francisco has kept an average of 5.7 wideouts per season. So it’s likely the team could keep six wide receivers in 2012.
Crabtree as one starter and top-pick Jenkins figure to be locks, as do Manningham and Moss, two high-profile free agents signed in the offseason.
Though the signing of Moss raised eyebrows, the former All-Pro – who sat out last season – has gotten nothing but rave reviews from coaches and teammates. If he’s healthy and contributing on and off the field, he’ll be one of the four “certains” on the roster.
Two other veterans returning are Williams and Ginn, who both seem vulnerable. Williams looked good in the recently concluded minicamp, and Ginn was resigned this offseason. Though Ginn caught just 19 passes last season, his true value was as a kick and punt returner, where he ranked as one of the NFL’s best in 2011.
It’s possible, however, that if rookie running back LaMichael James of Oregon looks solid as a returner in training camp and exhibition games, Ginn’s value could be muted. It seems Ginn will probably need to be healthy and productive this summer returning kicks – and contributing as a receiver – to keep his roster spot.
Willams, meanwhile, wil be competing with talented young receivers such as Palmer, Tyms and Owusu.
Owusu, an undrafted free agent out of Stanford, has excellent speed. He ran a 4.36 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine and, in initial workouts with the 49ers in May, reportedly looked faster than either Jenkins or James.
Palmer, a 5-foot-11, 197-pound undrafted free agent from Northern Illinois, caught 47 passes last season for 695 yards with seven TDs, but has suspect speed. Scouting reports say he can make the tough catch in traffic.
Tyms of Florida A&M is a raw talent and a big target at 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, with a 38-inch vertical leap. The undrafted free agent didn’t play much in high school and went to community college before going to A&M. His senior season he caught 38 passes for 538 yards and three TDs.
Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh believes the competition this summer will work everything out. Instead of a numbers game in which some players will be squeezed out, he sees an opportunity game in which the best and boldest will be on the roster in September. He’s urging his players to perform and don’t worry about the numbers.
“We’ve taken the attitude of we’re not counting numbers,” he told reporters last month. “We’re counting opportunities. And working and not worrying and let the chips fall where they may. You start worryng about how many – who’s going to get on the field – that’ll all sort out and play out throughout the process. But if you’ve got those things on your mind, then you’re not going to go out there and play free and work the way you should to make yourself better.
“So that’s probably the more prudent thing to do at this time.”