In 1985, the San Francisco 49ers traded up in the first round of the NFL draft to take a wide receiver from a small school named Mississippi Valley State. About a decade later, in the third round, the team selected another wide receiver from a little know school named Tennessee-Chattanooga. The first receiver went on to become arguably the greatest player in the history of the NFL and owns every major receiving record
. The second ranks in the top six in receptions, is third in receiving touchdowns, and second in receiving yards. Obviously, these two players are Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens and their selections were symbolic of a team that built and sustained a dynasty with smart personnel decisions.
The 49ers have had their ups and down since the late 90's, and have ultimately came back to being one of the elite franchises in the league. They have done so by making (for the most part) good draft choices and smart free agent signings. But one thing has eluded them since the selection of Owens in 1996...the ability to draft a highly productive wide receiver.
The 49ers have drafted 17 wide receivers from 1997-2013. Only six of those receivers have gained 1,000 yards with the 49ers in their careers. Not 1,000 yards in a season, but in all of their years in San Francisco. Looking deeper, only one of the players (Michael Crabtree) have ever eclipsed 1,000 yards in a season and he has only done it once. That means out of 17 draft picks who have played a total of 46 individual seasons, only once was 1,000 yards surpassed.
A reason for the lack of production is also because a number of the selections did not stick around for very long. Eight of the players (excluding Quinton Patton who just played his first season in 2013) have seven or less career receptions with the team. Six of those eight did not record a single catch. In some cases, the players who did not accumulate stats were late round picks but that list also includes Derrick Hamilton and Brandon Williams who were third round selections and A.J. Jenkins who was a first round pick.
If you add up the statistics for all of the 17 receivers taken since 1997, they have 1,056 receptions for 13,644 yards and 83 touchdowns as 49ers. Those 17 players have 225 less catches, 5,603 less yards and 93 less touchdowns than Jerry Rice alone during his time in San Francisco.
But, you may ask, what about Michael Crabtree? Crabtree is a very good player and you can make the argument that he is ready to explode in terms of production. However, the 49ers took Crabtree with the 10th overall pick in 2009. When a player is taken at that point in the first round, the expectation is that he will be dominate. Crabtree has only played a full season once (2012) but even if you look at his stats over a 16 game average, he comes across as a bit of a disappointment for someone taken so high in the draft. Crabtree's career averages are 70 receptions, 921 yards and about 5 touchdowns over 16 games. He has only broken 1,000 yards once in five seasons and only scored more than four touchdowns twice.
Is this just bad luck or do the 49ers have some kind of fatal flaw when it comes to drafting receivers? Considering the picks have been made by different administrations, bad luck may have something to do with it but doesn't let the team off the hook. With Crabtree in the last year of his contract, Anquan Boldin (even if re-signed) aging, and Quinton Patton unproven, Trent Baalke needs to hit on a receiver in this year's draft or will run the risk of having issues at the position moving forward. Once scenario is having to greatly overpay to keep Crabtree around, which is something that could hamstring the franchise.
Here is a list of the wide receivers drafted by the 49ers and their statistics with the team since 1997
1997: (no receiver selected)
1998: Ryan Thelwell, 7th round, Minnesota
No stats/Did not make team
1999: Tai Streets, 6th round, Michigan
5 years, 168 receptions, 2,208 yards, 13 touchdowns
2000: (no receiver selected)
2001: Cedrick Wilson, 6th round, Tennessee
4 years, 97 receptions, 1203 yards, 6 touchdowns
2002: (no receiver selected)
2003: Brandon Lloyd, 4th round, Illonois
3 years, 105 catches, 1510 yards, 13 touchdowns
Arnaz Battle, 6th round, Notre Dame
7 years, 178 catches, 2150 yards, 11 touchdowns
2004: Rashaun Woods, 1st round, Oklahoma State
1 year, 7 catches, 160 yards, 1 touchdown
Derrick Hamilton, 3rd round, Clemson
2 years, no stats
2005: Rasheed Marshall, 5th round, West Virginia
1 year, 1 catch, -1 yard, 0 touchdowns
Marcus Maxwell, 7th round, Oregon
2 years, no stats
2006: Brandon Williams, 3rd round, Wisconsin
2 years, no stats
2007: Jason Hill, 3rd round, Washington
4 years, 40 receptions, 413 yards, 4 touchdowns
2008: Joshua Morgan, 6th round, Virginia Tech
4 years, 131 receptions, 1764 yards, 9 touchdowns
2009: Michael Crabtree, 1st round, Texas Tech (still with team)
5 years, 279 receptions, 3629 yards, 22 touchdowns
2010: Kyle Williams, 6th round, Arizona State
4 years, 47 receptions, 574 yards, 4 touchdowns
2011: Ronald Johnson, 6th round, USC
No stats/ Did not make team
2012: A.J. Jenkins, 1st round, Illonois
1 year, no stats
2013: Quinton Patton, 4th round, Louisiana Tech (still with team)
1 year, 3 receptions, 34 yards, 0 touchdowns
Date: February 17, 2014 at 2:06 PM
Comment: I agree, WR college success is no guarantee of Pro success. Measurables don't tell the whole story. Heart and desire aren't measurable. Character can be seen in h
ow they carry themselves or who they hangout with. If trouble in college, they will have trouble outside when you give them a lot of money. There is a rating that most GM have, you got have more inside info if you are going against concensus. Jenkins was a 2-3rd why did they select in 1st rd. Beside his character didn't scream, I'm the man. Unless 49ers are moving up, it might be better they select a lineman. Swanson (c) or Tuitt (dt). Resigning Boldin, would mean we have 2 possession WR. Hard for 1st rd WR, to get on field. Also, there are many WR in 2nd. 49ers really need speed and size at WR.
Date: February 16, 2014 at 9:49 PM
Comment: we(niners) have to draft Sam Watkins! do what ever it takes to get him he is a cant miss!
Date: February 15, 2014 at 9:31 AM
Comment: wow! looks at all those scrubs we drafted. what stands out most about t.o. and jerry, they were supposedly super hard workers, but also they were just fast and freakishly athletic. Maybe we need to draft the best athlete out there, mold him and forget about the measurables.
Date: February 15, 2014 at 6:46 AM
Comment: Jeff Janis with the 4rth round compensatory pick.
Date: February 15, 2014 at 12:07 AM
Comment: Couldn't agree with you more. Although I think Patton will break out next year. The catch that he made against the packers, the one that basically setup the game winning field goal? I think we will see more of that type catch next year. But too right you are! WE NEED A BEAST at receiver this year from the draft - been waiting long enough!
By: Mike D
Date: February 14, 2014 at 8:12 PM
Comment: Our current staff and personnel have a hard time identifying WR talent. Bill Walsh was excellent at identifying WRs. Guys like Josh Morgan and Jason hill were decent WRs with bad Qbs. You can't draft a WR before you draft a QB. Justin Blackman would be a stud on another team. Imagine if Julio Jones was on the Jags.
Date: February 14, 2014 at 5:50 PM
Comment: I don't trust Baalke when he drafts offensive players anymore so I'd say we need to draft a CB in the 1st and then we can draft a WR in the 2nd because I don't wanna see him wasting our 1st round pick in an offensive bust (again) and don't forget that the Niners use 3-WR sets in only 25% of the plays which means that if Patton can succeed the 4th WR would be almost useless at least this upcoming season. CB in the 1st and WR in the 2nd please.
Date: February 14, 2014 at 2:26 PM
Comment: It's not the receivers .
J.Rice had Montana and Young.
T.Owens had Young and Garcia.
M.Crabtree had Smith, now Kap.
When you have a good QB who knows how to throw his guys open, then you get receiver production.
Kap is a gem but until he learns progressions and accuracy then we will continue talking about needing a top receiver.
Just imagine, if Brady, P.Manning, Brees, Rogers or R.Wilson had our(9ers) receiving core.
My stand is we have the receivers to win now, we need better QB play. IMO.
Date: February 14, 2014 at 1:02 PM
Comment: I think the problems writh receivers is offensive Co ordinators. Especially the last three seasons ranking 3rd to 2nd last in the league in scoring. Roman has to go.
Date: February 14, 2014 at 12:36 PM
Comment: It can be a good thing to draft a receiver...many believe Patton will really emerge next season and I agree with them. He didn't get much of a chance and was hurt for part of the year. Some advocate the Niners trade up to get Sammy Watkins, which I feel would be a foolish move. Not only costly in terms of high draft picks, but there's no guarantee he'll perform in the NFL like he did at Clemson. Would like to see Baalke get either Beckham or Cooks. Both are fast and could create problems for even the best CB's. Both guys can also return kicks.
Date: February 14, 2014 at 10:48 AM
Comment: With Rice and Owens the team had a pass first philosophy. Now it has a run first philosophy. It seems silly to expect the current receivers to put up Rice/Owens type numbers. What SF got from Crabtree in 2012 and Bolden in 3013 seems about right in this offense.
No doubt there can be improvement in the WR talent, but if you are expecting a return to the Rice/Owens days, prepare yourself for continual disappointment.
Date: February 14, 2014 at 9:59 AM
Comment: IMO, it's not the lack of receivers, but the way they are used. Last year we had Crabtree, Boldin and Vernon Davis with Frank Gore coming out of the backfield. All Pro Bowl caliber players. In the 49er golden years we had Rice, Taylor, Jones(tight end) with Rathdrum and Craig out of the backfield. IMO, we don't have the coaching for a successful passing attack. With the players we already have we should be throwing the ball, and having success. Kaepernick has a great arm, we have a decent offensive line. No reason, other than coaching, for us to be a poor passing team.
Date: February 14, 2014 at 9:10 AM
Comment: If the 49ers re-sign A.Boldin i dont even know if drafting a WR early is possible. They dressed only 4 during the season and the 4th WR would play special teams only. 49ers dont run the spread. They care more about blocking down field. I would like them to draft a WR early but as of right now i would think so. CB or SS would be their priority if AB re-signs.
Something needs to change on how they develop and scout WR. The history and stats speak for themselves - the article is dead on.
Like greg Roman said they are a power offense - i would also hope they would draft a WR with size and strength.
An easy target for Kap. Jon Baldwin is on the team for now...Physical tools but cant get on the field?? He was a starter before.....something gots to give. I also feel there is a Baalke and Harb power struggle with player personnel when drafting skilled offensive players.
Date: February 14, 2014 at 8:27 AM
Comment: Do I think we should fire the wr coach and scouts, no doubt. Last year they kept started Moore, aj Jenkins Baldwin and an assortment of mediocre unproductive talent at wr. But having said that, kap is not a b friendly qb. The throws rockets and has virtually no touch except when there is no pressure and the wr is 30yards down field on a broken play. Compare to Brady who literally played w guys off the street. Montana manning Bree's etc.. Make their wrs better, if kap would stop lifting weights and concentrate on improving his qb skills he can be great. ( see vd who was strong as an ox and faster than a cheetah his first years, but only became a probowler after he learned to catch the ball) until then he has more muscles than Russuel, Montana and young, but only ranks on par with mike Vick as a qb.