New Wide Receiver Would Help 49ers Open Passing Attack

Harbaugh says Niners are evaluating ways to tweak and improve offensive scheme -- which could mean more three-receiver sets with addition of fast, deep-threat rookie

The 49ers under head coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman have been a running team. That’s not likely to change.

The re-signing of fullback Bruce Miller assures that. The Niners wouldn’t be ditching their power running game while also investing in a fullback.

But there are indications the 49ers might take a more wide-open approach with their passing game in 2014. Earlier this week at the NFL owners’ meetings in Florida,  Harbaugh said the 49ers will undergo “a real good scheme evaluation.” 

“Now that we’ve had Colin (Kaepernick) here for a year and a half and understand what we all do well, what we could do better,” Harbaugh said, according to Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee. “I think that’s something that’s a priority right now that we’ll attack.”

And to go along with that tweaking, the 49ers are looking for more playmakers at wide receiver. That, of course, isn’t a secret. The Niners have talked about upgrading their receiving corps since the end of last season. But it is revealing that the team wants to add talent to the group in order to tweak the offensive scheme to allow Kaepernick to be more effective.

The 49ers have three receivers they like in Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin and second-year man Quinton Patton, who came on at the end of 2013 after fighting through early-season injuries. The Niners like Patton’s potential and his toughness. But they want to add another wideout who can be dynamic.

“(We need) a third guy who can get open and make plays, another option for the quarterback to go to, a chance to attack all areas of the field,” Harbaugh told reporters. “A playmaker. That’s what we’re looking for.”

As Barrows noted, Kaepernick often was hampered early in the season by a lack of go-to pass catchers. Defenses concentrated on Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis (when both Crabtree and Patton were hurt), and San Francisco’s passing game looked rudimentary.

“There was a stretch last year where he didn’t have (many receiving options) and he played through it,” Harbaugh said of Kaepernick, according to Barrows. “ … There (were) definitely times where we were just not getting guys open for him.”

If the 49ers do get the wideout they’re looking for in the draft – many mock drafts have the team selecting a player such as Brandin Cooks of Oregon State near the end of the first round – they’ll have four strong wide receivers, plus tight ends Davis and second-year player Vance McDonald.

Surely, if the 49ers coaching staff wants to alter the offensive scheme to challenge defenses more often with deeper, more aggressive routes in 2014, Kaepernick has the strong arm to do it – and opposing safeties (hello, Seahawks) will no longer be able to play so close to the line of scrimmage.

In 2013, the Niners used three wide-receiver sets only 20 percent of the time, the lowest rate in the NFL, according to Barrows.

That’s a number that may be significantly higher in 2014.

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