I must admit, I didn't think Michael Crabtree was going to amount to anything. He seemed like he was going to be one of those players where the potential would never be realized. Crabtree's progression over the past two seasons is changing my mind. It makes me wonder what Crabtree could do if the 49ers had a solid number two wide receiver. Even if the second wide receiver had a similar skill set, it would take some heat off of Crabtree.
It is possible someone on the current roster will blossom in the 2013 season. Mario Manningham seemed like the most likely player to fill the number two wideout position. After tearing his ACL and PCL, he faces an uphill battle just get back to full speed. Fortunately for Manningham, we live in a modern age of medicine. Players like Gale Sayers had to endure experimental surgeries to fix torn ligaments. After Sayers tore his ACL in 1968, doctors replaced the ligament with cat intestines. It will be possible for Manningham to come back, but will he be the same player? If he's not recovering well, the 49ers may even opt to cut him to gain more room in the salary cap.
Kyle Williams and A.J. Jenkins are the only other two wide receivers on the roster that could end up as number two. Williams will be coming back from an ACL injury. He is probably better served as a special teams player, but could develop into a good slot receiver. Jenkins didn't catch on, nor catch a ball last season. Perhaps working out with Kaepernick this offseason will help. Jenkins has a long way to go to be a number two wide receiver.
Given the current state of their roster, the 49ers are more likely to find a complementing receiver in Free Agency. The best unrestricted free agents on the market are: Mike Wallace, Wes Welker, Greg Jennings, and Danny Amendola.
Mike Wallace is a blazing fast, but inconsistent, Wide Receiver from the Steelers. Wallace ended last season with a career low in average yards per catch, and a career high in dropped passes. Even with his down season, he is arguably the most sought after wide receiver on the market. If he can get back on track, Wallace would be one of the best deep threats in the game. Wallace is reportedly looking to sign a large contract, worth $11-12 million per season. Wallace would be a great compliment for Crabtree. However, the contract he's looking for would create serious complications for the 49ers' salary cap.
Wes Welker has been one of the most consistent wide receivers over the past six seasons for the Patriots. His 2010 season was under a thousand yards, due to an ACL tear suffered in the Patriots' 2009 season finale. Welker bounced back to form in 2011, with a 1,569 yard season. Welker will be 32 heading into next season, and probably has 2-3 solid seasons left. Due to his age, his contact demands may not be as high as the 26 year old Wallace. Welker would be a good addition to the 49ers roster and shouldn't have a huge effect on the salary cap.
Greg Jennings is coming into free agency following an injury filled, low production season in Green Bay. Jennings has missed 11 games over the last two seasons. If he can get healthy during the offseason, he would be a good number two wide receiver for the 49ers. Jennings has the talent to be a number one receiver for some NFL teams. Since there are several teams that need a number one receiver, some team will probably overpay for Jennings' services.
Danny Amendola should be a familiar name to 49er fans. If Amendola wasn't injured, we watched him two times a year playing for the Rams. His second best game of the season, was in week 10 versus the 49ers. Amendola had 102 yards on 11 catches. His skill set is similar to Welker's - small, fast, and playing the slot very well. Amendola's issue is being on the injury report far too often. If the 49ers want to take a chance that Amendola will stay injury free, he could be a great bargain.
I wouldn't be disappointed seeing the 49ers sign any of the aforementioned wide receivers. The 49ers have gone bargain hunting in free agency the past couple seasons. I don't think they'll overpay to get a quality talent. Welker and Amendola are the two receivers I'm hoping the 49ers target. Jennings and Wallace would be great additions, however the salary cap implications will likely cause the 49ers to look elsewhere. The 49ers expect to have 15 draft picks this year. First year receivers usually don't make much of an impact. However, they could use some of the draft picks in a trade to get some talent. I'm impatiently waiting to see what the 49ers have up their sleeve when the free agency period starts this week.