In this season's first installment of UFR, we'll be looking at which of the rookies will make the biggest impact on the 2013 season, how we feel the soap opera at wide receiver will shake out and predict who has a better shot at being the 49ers leading receiver this season: Anquan Boldin or Vernon Davis?
Who is going to be this year's impact rookie for the 49ers?
Almost every rookie class has at least one notable contributor...a player that makes his presence felt, influencing the outcome of a game, or in some cases, a season. In 2011, that player was Aldon Smith. In 2012, that player was (somewhat, anyway) LaMichael James. Who will it be in 2013?
AJ: Corey Lemonier. When this guy fell to the 49ers in the 3rd round of the draft, I was ecstatic. He is a rush linebacker that has all of the tools: speed, explosiveness, strength and long arms. Over the first two games of the preseason he's done a great job of getting pressure on the passer and shown impressive awareness on the field, so much so that I think he has a chance to find himself a spot as a rush end on the 49ers 3rd down defense when the regular season rolls around. That isn't to say that he doesn't have issues - he needs to work on using his hands more effectively to separate from blockers and needs to refine his technique in order to be dominant. But he has all the tools, and to date he's shown that he knows how to employ them on the field.
Diego: I'm going to cheat and pick the first rounder, safety Eric Reid. The 49ers traded up to get their guy, which tells you they have high expectations from him, and he has been everything you could ask for in his short time in San Francisco short of playing like Ed Reed in his prime. He has put in the work in offseason workouts, training camp, and each of the first two preseason games - where he has played the third most snaps among defenders - and looked good for the most part. This has earned him the right to be the starter in the 49ers' third preseason game this Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, which is a pretty good sign that he'll be the starting free safety when the season starts. With a healthy front seven, San Francisco's secondary will have plenty of opportunities to make plays, and I expect Reid to produce his fair share of highlights.
Wideouts in San Francisco's training camp have sort of been playing musical chairs so far, but with a twist: there's 11 of them (10 now), but only about 5 or 6 chairs. So who will find a chair? And who will be left standing when the music stops?
Diego: Let's establish the fact that Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham will have a chair waiting for them when they are cleared from their injuries, which means a couple of the wide receivers who make the 53 men team will only have a temporary assignment. Anquan Boldin will of course take one spot, and you have to think that "coach favorite" rookie Quinton Patton will get a spot as well (for someone who has been sidelined with an injury, he has done everything he could have to keep himself ready for his first NFL game this Sunday). Kyle Williams knows this system, has been productive in a limited role during his time here, and he can be a contributor in the return game - I expect him to take one of those chairs. AJ Jenkins? He is not our headache anymore. Our new headache may quickly become Jonathan Baldwin, who has the talent to be a star in the NFL but has yet to put it together in his first couple of seasons in the league. As weary as I may be of him, he sure has A LOT of potential (and a guaranteed $1 million this season), so he will take a chair. There is a guy in this competition who from 2009 to 2011 averaged 57 catches, 613 yards, and 5 touchdowns per season, and so long as he remains healthy throughout the preseason Austin Collie seems to bring too much upside to this team to lose out on a chair.
The 49ers went into last season with 6 wide receivers on their roster, so assuming they repeat the trend this season there is one more chair to be had in this analysis. I know what you're thinking: Marlon Moore's playing time with the starters so far in the preseason, seeing only a few reps, would seem to suggest he has a spot secured with the team. I sure hope not, as I feel the most impressive wide receiver in this competition throughout the offseason and training camp has been Chad Hall. Moore has never been anything special in the NFL, and Hall offers more upside in special teams. Who knows? Maybe Moore shows us a little bit more in these next two games, but at this point I can't make an argument for him to get a spot over Hall on this team.
AJ: Lets start with a few pragmatic assumptions. Assumption #1: Michael Crabtree is sidelined for the season kids, and if by some medical miracle he finds his way back onto the field this season, the odds of him making a significant impact on the offense after coming back from a completely ruptured achilles are slim at best. Assumption #2: As much as we all hope that Mario Manningham can come back at full strength from his horrific knee injury, the fact that he's starting the season in the PUP list is troubling, to say the least.
Now that we're through the bad news, lets accentuate the positive. Anquan Boldin is going to make a difference for the 49ers this season, both on the field and off the field. His ability to be a "coach on the field" will pay dividends for a group or relatively young and unheralded wideouts, and that is great for this team. Add to that the fact that he is perfect for combatting the NFC West's legion of tall, physical corners and you have the makings of an effective offensive weapon, in theory anyway.
And now to who will actually comprise Kaep's band of merry pass catchers for 2013. Boldin is a lock, barring some horrific unforeseen circumstance (keep your fingers crossed, people). Kyle Williams has shown competence as a receiver, and he has special teams ability...which makes him a sure fire bet to make the final 53. Though the 49ers only drafted him this season, Quinton Patton should make the team. He's an able route runner, and has shown the ability to get open throughout his college career...and barring a complete collapse over the next two preseason games (as of this writing, he's been cleared to play) he's a lock for the final 53.
That brings us to the remainders: Jon Baldwin, Chad Hall, Kasim Osgood, Marlon Moore, Austin Collie, Chuck Jacobs and Lavelle Hawkins. Hall is everything that recently traded AJ Jenkins was not...reliable and almost always open. Osgood is a special teams ace with receiving ability, though he is getting on in years (33 years old...that's "Grampy" status in the NFL). Marlon Moore has seen his share of reps with the first team and thus far has done fairly well. Austin Collie was a productive player in Peyton's flying circus back in Indianapolis...but has yet to fully bounce back from a torn patellar tendon and has a worrisome concussion history. Hawkins had a great catch from BJ Daniels in the 4th quarter of last week's game. Jacobs caught last week's game winner. Baldwin has size, speed, a stellar college resume...and two so-so years in Kansas City.
As it pertains to the remainders, I think that the final three spots will go to Baldwin (there is too much potential there to ignore...for now), Moore (those first team reps mean something) and Hall (he may be small, but he's getting it done on the field). I wouldn't be surprised to see Jacobs his way onto the practice squad.
Anquan Boldin or Vernon Davis?
It is a safe assumption that either Vernon Davis or Anquan Boldin will be the 49ers' leading receiver this season. The question is, which will it be?
AJ: I've got to go with Vernon Davis here. Now that he and Kap have had an entire offseason to work on their chemistry and the fact that he'll see some time split-out wide makes this one a virtual certainty. If Davis could have a record setting season with Alex Smith tossing him the rock, just imagine what he'll do now that Kap is throwing to him! One thing is for sure: it should be a lot of fun to watch.
Diego: Anquan Boldin is going to break whatever is left of the curse of Terrell Owens, meaning somebody wearing number 81 will finally be a productive member of this offense. The 10-year veteran AVERAGES over 1,000 receiving yards per season during his career and may now be catching passes from the most talented quarterback he's ever played with. Furthermore, other than Davis, there are no other legitimate receiving threats on the team that will take looks away from him. The last time he was the undisputed top wide receiver on his team? Try his first season in 2003, when he hauled in 101 balls for 1,377 yards and 8 touchdowns. If he can produce those kind of numbers as a rookie catching passes from Jeff Blake and Josh McCown, 49ers fans are going to love what they see from the 7 to 81 connection.
- The 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs became trade partners once again this week when they swapped first round disappointments AJ Jenkins and Jon Baldwin. Their struggles are somewhat similar, in that they seem to lack the mental toughness to succeed in this league. That being said, Baldwin is far more talented than his counterpart - he could have been a top 15 overall pick based on talent alone, while Jenkins was clearly a reach at the end of first round.
- San Francisco went out and brought in Seneca Wallace off the street to insert him to the quarterback competition, which tells you all you need to know about how the quarterbacks behind Kaepernick have performed so far this preseason. Reportedly all of Kaepernick, Colt McCoy, Scott Tolzien, BJ Daniels, and Wallace will see playing time tomorrow night vs the Vikings on national TV. Don't be shocked if Kaepernick doesn't even play the full first quarter. Jim Harbaugh does not care.
- While we're at it, don't expect to see a whole lot of Frank Gore tomorrow night either. Instead look for Kendall Hunter, playing in his first game since an achilles injury ended his season early last year, to see a good amount of reps to get in-tune for the regular season.
- Question to ponder: Will BJ Daniels outshine McCoy and Tolzein again? The 2nd, 3rd and 4th quarters should be very entertaining.
- Kendall Hunter will see his first action of the preseason tonight. Let's see how explosive he is after injury.
- If you get the chance, take a long look at Corey Lemonier when he's in tonight. Another performance like the last two he's put up, and he could become a regular on the 49ers 3rd down pass defense.
- While you're at it, keep an eye out for Jon Baldwin. With 1 reception tonight, he'll have more than AJ Jenkins has managed for his entire career.
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