The 2003 NFL draft opened many surprises for San Francisco 49er fans as the first pick was spent on the offensive line and the first day ended with the 49ers addressing defensive needs as a result of waiving veterans to achieve relief under the mandated salary cap. One of the immediate needs the 49ers failed to address on the first day of the draft was wide receiver.

Many analysts and fans thought that the 49ers would certainly address this need based on the knowledge that Terrell Owens is in the final year of his contract with San Francisco.

Others speculated and with good reason to in anticipating a first day pick because second-tier wide receiver Tai Streets had made many indications as a restricted free agent that he wanted out of San Francisco. Streets and his agent flirted on many occasions in the off-season in trying to find a team that was more compatible with his hometown needs back in and around Chicago.

Streets made headlines last season in achieving career-highs with the 49ers statistically and solidified the opposite side of the field next to Terrell Owens. A trade was even mentioned and promoted by the agent for Tai Streets as to getting his client out of San Francisco once and for all. Streets has been carrying a grudge in many analysts minds that it took five years for him to be recognized, always staring at the shadow of the man he finally beat out in J.J. Stokes for the second-tier position opposite Owens.

Early in the year San Francisco knowing they had only seven draft picks going into the draft flirted with the idea of trading Streets for possible draft picks after he expressed desire to leave San Francisco. A deal almost was made with the New York Jets for Tai Streets services as they lost their premier wide receiver to another club.

However neither side could come to terms because New York felt that San Francisco had too steep a price in requesting a first or second round draft pick for him. The front office in San Francisco knowing that Streets was very successful last season were not about to let Streets go without just compensation and I concur with that standpoint.

Asking for a prime draft pick or several picks was not out of character when you realize how valuable Tai Streets could be in the future. He has proven without a doubt that he has the talent and capability to succeed at a high level in the NFL today.

“There’s a lot of talk about Tai Streets obviously,” 49ers general manager Terry Donahue said. “I think our joint feeling is there’s no reason for us to trade Tai Streets. He’s a good player, he caught over 70 passes last year, and he has a chance to be a starting football player on our team, which he was last year at certain periods. We’re not interested in that. If someone wants to get us interested in that, we’d certainly be receptive to listening. But it would have to be a very appealing offer for us to consider doing that.”

One must be concerned though that Tai Streets has left the door open pretty wide in stating through his agent that he is very interested in playing for another franchise that is closer to his home. It signals to the 49ers that they mat ant to have a game plan when Streets becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2004. The likelihood of him leaving is pretty convincing based on the fact that several other veterans will be unrestricted free agents with a higher priority.

When Donahue was asked for the bottom line on Streets he said, “I think Tai Streets will play here and play really well with us, and then he’ll test the free agent market (as an unrestricted free agent in 2004).”

But there is yet another major complication and that is that star receiver Terrell Owens becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2004 as well. So in essence you have the starting lineup of wide receivers possibly leaving at the end of this season. That is what bears weight upon this draft to produce someone or someone’s almost immediately. The 49ers have known that the day of reckoning has been drawing nearer for Terrell Owens, and it has not really made a game plan so to say to rectify the situation in my opinion.

Owens has a history of being a malcontent on the team in his dealings with former head coach Steve Mariucci and blabbing information and sarcasm’s to the media that literally ripped away at the management on this team. Terrell though has come full circle at the beginning of last year when Steve Mariucci traveled in the off-season to see Terrell all the way in Atlanta to mend fences.

Terrell Owens was so impressed that he turned over a new leaf and ultimately rededicated himself to being a leader on the team with a strong voice. He was ultimately responsible for driving us in a desperate comeback in the first round of the playoffs against the New York Giants to a monumental victory that went down in NFL history as being the second best comeback of all time.

To loose both Owens and Streets at the end of the year will be catastrophic to say the least. We as a team and an organization will need to address this situation immediately before the actual season begins. We all know what Owens will command as far as a contract a multi-million dollar bonanza that will either equal or surpass Randy Moss’s contract with the Minnesota Vikings.

But there is one difference between the two and that is that Terrell Owens makes plays happen whenever he feels like it. He is so invigorating out on the field because he truly believes he can change the tempo of a game almost at his own will. And you know what he does, because he is that damn good folks. He deserves a lucrative contract and the 49ers best damn get one to him as soon as possible.

To mess with this type of play making ability is psychotic to say the least, for Terrell Owens ignites the playing field like no other receiver since Jerry Rice. He is the without a doubt the best receiver in the business today hands down, and I know you’ll have to agree with me on this one.

Still another wrinkle in the 49er offensive punch is that back in early April before the draft the 49ers granted J.J. Stokes the right to seek a trade or ultimately be cut after June 1st to save precious money against the salary cap. The 1995 eight-year veteran has never really lived up to the 49er dream of having a big play threat they had thought that they had drafted way back then.

J.J. Stokes has see sawed back and forth between a second-tier receiver and a third-tier receiver. He was drafted in the first round by the 49ers back in 1995 and has been a disappointment ever since. His best year was back in 1997 when Jerry Rice suffered his very first season-ending injury when he went down with a knee injury. He took advantage of the situation and produced pretty good statistics opposite Terrell Owens that season.

He has had 327 career receptions for 4,139 yards and 30 touchdowns, however reoccurring injuries has been the knife in the balloon so to speak on much of his career. His production has been glaringly inconsistent as well when considering he has a hard time finding separation against a good defensive back while in play. The San Francisco 49ers though have demonstrated remarkable restraint and compassion for J.J. Stokes over them seasons giving him second and even third chances to try and resurrect his career with them.

The 49ers last year were considering releasing him but instead reworked his contract in getting him to take a pay cut. The wide receiver actually took a $2 million dollar pay cut to remain with the team believing he would have a chance to be a starter finally again. Stokes started the first four games of the 2002 season, but all of a sudden his performance nose-dived after he suffered a knee injury while making a season-best 51-yard catch against St. Louis on Oct. 6. By the time he mended and returned five weeks later, Streets has established himself as the team’s new No.#2 starting wide receiver.

However teams are not that interested in a trade knowing that the broken down receiver will never be a true No.#1 threat. He is just coming off an injury-hampered season in which he caught 32 passes for 332-yards and just one touchdown. His salaries calls for $2.25 million this season and $5 million in 2004.

This is a big difference from what the 49ers thought of him back in 1995 when they moved up 20 spots on the draft board in order to take him out of UCLA at the No. 10 spot. Carmen Policy, then the team president, called it “too good to be true,” and others heralded Stokes as the heir apparent to Jerry Rice.

Well guess what folks he has been anything but these that’s for sure. And it has been frustrating for both sides as we have been down this road countless times for sure, but the statistics do not lie and they are what they are folks. ESPN quoted an NFC personnel director as saying, “I’d consider him for our No. 3 wide receiver slot, but I’m not going to trade for him, not when I know I can get him for free later this spring. And he’d have to be willing to take less money, too.”

So as you can see the market out there on J.J. Stokes is not all that great, leaving that the likelihood of him being cut is all that real as June 1st approaches as the cutoff deadline. “It’s unlikely J.J. Stokes will be back on the team,” Donhaue said “The odds are he won’t be on the team.”

“People say, you know, a year from now or two years from now we’re going to have a real problem at wide receiver and we better get some wide receivers,” 49ers general manager Terry Donahue said. “I concur with that, and so does Dennis (Erickson).”

The San Francisco 49ers did address the wide receiver scenario in the fourth round of the 2003 NFL draft. Some would’ve liked to have seen the 49ers draft a wide receiver sooner but the draft was deep with quality receivers much like it was with defensive tackles.

Prospects the 49ers had been looking at were Florida’s Taylor Jacobs, Tennessee’s Kelley Washington, Penn State’s Bryant Johnson and Middle Tennessee’s Tyrone Calico. The 49ers considered many prospects including these that were on the draft board but looked towards Illinois Brandon Lloyd as the answer.

The skinny on Illinois wide receiver Brandon Lloyd 6-0 and 184-pounds

Brandon Lloyd was selected in the fourth round with the 124th overall pick in this draft. He ran the 40 in 4.61 and has been compared to Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Johnnie Morton. One of his greatest assets has been his consistency something that all receivers are encouraged to have when they play the game. He closed out his career with Illinois with 160 receptions for 2,583-yards and 21 touchdowns.

One of the things that made Lloyd fall down the draft board was his 40-yard dash time done at the Combine. He was clocked in at 4.63 but Lloyd maintains that this number is very misleading. Obviously the 49ers did not put as much weight on this as other teams because of where they eventually drafted him.

“Well, I ran a 4.49 at my pro timing day. I’m sure you heard that I had the flu at the Combine,” Lloyd said. “I have run a 4.49, and probably would have run even faster if I weren’t sick. I think my speed is fine; you can say I’m slow, but I’m very productive on the field.”

In his senior season at Illinois he started all 12 games and caught 65 passes for 1,010 yards and nine touchdowns. His best individual performance of the season came against Michigan when he grabbed 10 passes for 156-yards and a 46-yard touchdown. As a junior he was a First Team All-Big Ten selection after catching 65 passes for 1,062 yards and 10 touchdowns. His very best regular season performance came against Northwestern when he had a career-high 12 catches (third-best game total in school history) for 140 yards, including 12 and 15-yard touchdowns.

His school record is impressive when you really analyze him. He even has kick return potential because he did that in college also averaging just over 18.5 yards per return in the limited role that he was. There is no question about what the 49ers found as far as value in connection with Brandon Lloyd. He will be a rival to Tai Streets and will be a special team’s star I’m sure right from the very beginning.

Hands: He is so consistent and even spectacular in this area. He makes plays on jump balls because of his long arms, excellent leaping ability and sound concentration. He has established soft hands while on the run and catches passes away from his body, over his head and over his shoulder. He has a knack for finding and tracking down the ball while it is in the air.

Patterns: He has improved his route running skills and shows very good quickness and makes sudden breaks. He has adequate bursts out of his cuts and gains separation on both short and intermediate routes. He can be a big-play threat when he wants to be he has neither great strength nor great bulk but is fearless when going over the middle. He has great concentration skills while moving in traffic. He is well aware of the first down marker and has the ability to work the sidelines when asked to.

Run after the catch: He increases his speed as he goes and shows good quickness and burst after the catch. He has excellent lateral movement, which is important for a receiver. However he does not show good natural vision or instincts because he tends to dance a little too much. He doesn’t really make tacklers miss while in the open field. Release: He has both god initial quickness and excellent lateral movement, he sidesteps press coverage with very good footwork. He will have trouble though down the road with big physical cornerbacks so he’ll have to improve upon his strength dramatically.

Blocking: This is where the weaknesses lie in both strength and bulk. Is willing to sustain blocks but he lacks the upper-body strength to do so. He is a wall-off and position blocker that lacks a mean streak. He can get pushed around by big defensive backs which gives concern as to how he’ll do up against the pro’s in this league and in our division.

Overall: He is so consistent and fearless and he has special downfield possibilities. He will definitely fight for a roster spot in this rotation and will push Cedrick Wilson and others for more playing time. He could contribute on special teams almost immediately as he has limited experience in this area. I feel we drafted the best available athlete at our position in the fourth round on this one, and I am confident that Brandon will be a play threat that others will learn to be aware of soon enough.

“Brandon is a real smooth route runner, maybe the smoothest we will have on the team,” said wide receivers coach Eric Yarber. “He’s very savvy on the field and just has a great feel for the game of football.”

About a dozen wide receivers had already gone on the draft board by the time the 49ers decided to choose one. The 49ers had absolutely no idea that Brandon Lloyd would still be around in the fourth round of this draft. This receiver in Lloyd has probably the best hands out of many in this draft and is one of the few that proclaim consistency. So the 49ers were thrilled when he landed in their laps with the 124th overall pick.

“Particularly in the situation in which we were in, where we needed (a receiver) and we weren’t going to take one unless he could play,” Erickson said. “We’re excited about it. He was a good pick for us.”

Whether you believe it or not the greatest thing that Lloyd can do is push the third wide receiver to play at a higher level. Here you’ll see Cedric Wilson really starting to excel in an attempt to hold off Lloyd from advancing on his turf. This is a spot that the team needs to be substantially better if it is to make a good push in 2003.

“He’s a very polished receiver,” Erickson said. “He’s got good quickness and size. Had he not been there, we probably would have gone another direction with this pick. We were holding our breath as it came right down to it because obviously we needed one. He’ll come in and help us right away.”

There is no doubt that aspirations are high on Lloyd and as to what he can do for our franchise. The hour of need is at hand folks in regards to the position of wide receiver. We have issues all over the place in thus arena and they will all have to be addressed in one form or another.

The 49ers will continue to look throughout the off-season for answers as to what will have to be done. Contract extensions would be the best option in my opinion in holding on to what you have and letting Brandon Lloyd develop the proper way he should.

“Whether it’s Brandon or whether its Cedrick Wilson or whether we loom after June 1st, that is still an option for us,” Erickson said. “We probably aren’t done. If there is something out there we feel that we can afford and that we really think could help us at the position. We’re going to do it. It will be interesting to see where Brandon’s. We may see him at the mini-camp and really like what we see.”

Brandon has already made great impressions in mini-camps so far as he has left the coaching staff breathless with his on field acrobatics. Dennis Erickson has always been a coach that relies on speed and explosive quickness from his wide receivers he is an offensive minded coach deeply rooted in this philosophy.

“Sometimes we get tricked on video without watching him live,” Erickson said at the end of a three-day mini-camp. “He’s lot faster (in person) and a lot more explosive. He’s a guy that can deep for you.

“And I think the knock by some people was that he couldn’t run fast. And I don’t see that. He’s real smooth. He doesn’t look like he’s running real fast all the time, but then he runs by you. He’s a polished receiver.”

What has been overlooked with Lloyd is that he has been impressing coaches for years with his style and charisma on the field. Despite the Combine setback a lot is to blame on his flu symptoms he has been consistently quick and fast in all his outings as a receiver.

Sometimes the Combine can hurt a player more so than strengthening one, this is a classic case of that happening. Brandon continues to maintain that nothing is to be concerned about in regards to his speed because it is a speed that will simply sneak up on you in his opinion.

“That’s then way it’s always been,” Lloyd said. “A lot of people call it deceptive speed. I wouldn’t really call it deceptive. It’s just explosive. I eat up cushions. I have a long stride. It’s fast.”

“A lot of times it doesn’t transfer over to (40-yard dash times) or on tape pr whatever. Bit when you get on the field and your trying to cover me, it’s a whole different story.” So far he has been impressive to Dennis Erickson in mini-camps and he is making an immediate impact on the field. He already is adjusting to the playbook and watching film and making catches from our quarterbacks on a regular basis.

“I’m confident in my ability,” Lloyd said. “Everybody out here should be confident in their ability or they wouldn’t be out here.” “I just feel like this is where I’m supposed to be. I worked really hard for this. I worked my whole life. A lot of sacrifices. I seized my opportunity, and that’s why I’m here.”

Brandon Lloyd will battle Cedrick Wilson for the third wide receiving slot, and even should he not win that contest he’ll be a part of multiple four wide receiver sets that Dennis Erickson will apply throughout the season. You can bet on it with Erickson in opening this offense into overdrive, he expects nothing but success and prides himself on positive accomplishments.

Lloyd is quick to get back up from many of his peers and former coaches. He left a mark back in Illinois that will be hard to surpass or at least overlook. He worked very hard to prove himself in that circuit and is ready and willing to accept the big time in the NFL. I believe he is ready and that he will help curb the weaknesses that are a part of his framework and mechanics.

“He’s very intelligent, No. 1, and extremely confident and extremely outgoing,” said Illinois coach Ron Turner, and Alhambra High School graduate. “He has a bubbly personality that’s contagious. We needed that personality.”

“Other guys are nervous playing Michigan,” Turner said. “He looks at me and says, ’This place isn’t that great. Why do they call it the Big House.’ “He played a great game. He made some key plays,” Turner said.

So there it is folks a vote of confidence from me when it comes to Brandon Lloyd. He is talented and confident and I’m sure we’ll see that transformed over to the field on game day on every given Sunday. Lloyd is being counted on to deliver among a set of receivers that are in a state of flux right now. Three of our starters are on the fence and looking elsewhere we need to address that with the utmost urgency.