Who makes The Team At WR?
August 20, 2007 at 11:25 PM
For the first time in recent memory, the wide receiver position is going to involve some tough decisions. The 49ers finally have enough talent at the position where if they release a player, other teams will actually consider picking up the scraps.
With so many receivers on the roster (10 to be exact) who makes the final 53-man squad?
Well let's begin with the obvious. Which receivers are currently a part of the squad?These are the receivers in camp, in no particular order:
#14 C.J. Brewer
#15 Dominique Zeigler
#18 Ashley Lelie
#19 Marcus Maxwell
#81 Brandon Williams
#82 Darrell Jackson
#83 Arnaz Battle
#84 Bryan Gilmore
#88 Taylor Jacobs
#89 Jason Hill
Of these 10 players, Head Coach Mike Nolan said he will keep 5 or 6. That means that 4 or 5 of the receivers in camp will be cut.
There are the obvious choices: Jackson and Battle. After that, things get a little murky.
Taylor Jacobs, acquired last year in a trade with the Washington Redskins, seems to have worked his way up the depth chart. In danger of being released last year, he has battled his way from the 4th receiver spot up to the 3rd spot. Coach Nolan affirmed Jacob's position in his daily press briefing. In fact, despite his less that stellar outing against the Oakland Raiders, Nolan said that Jacobs is "clearly the third guy to me right now." That doesn't leave much room for interpretation.
Now that the first three spots are taken, we have to fill out the final 2 or 3.
Ashley Lelie has been working with the second team offense in recent weeks. He started off camp slow, but he certainly made the most of his game against the Raiders. Lelie made a key grab on a 20-yard pass from Alex Smith. He also made a fantastic inside break on a quick slant route for a 1-yard TD. All in all Lelie had a strong outing and maybe saved his spot on this team.
The thing about Lelie, the singular thing that has probably saved his career thus far, is that he has a pretty big upside if he can get back to his 2004 form, where he caught 54 balls for 1084 yards and 7 TDs. He has proven that he can produce as a starter, and can be a legitimate deep threat. His upside, as well as his improving performance means Lelie stays.
4 down, just 1 or 2 to go. Jason Hill, this year's 3rd round pick, is assured a spot because of his high draft status. Another player with tremendous potential, Hill ran a 4.32 at the NFL Combine, a faster time than Ted Ginn Jr. At 6-1 and 210 pounds, Hill could develop into the type of receiver Mike Nolan wants: big, fast and strong.
Why not put Hill on the practice squad then? In order to do that, the 49ers would have to cut him AND he would have to clear waivers. There are plenty of receiver starved teams that would snatch up a talent like Hill and stash him on their roster. So, in essence, the 49ers must do the same.
So far, we have five spots filled. Theoretically, this could be it. However, I think Nolan will be forced to keep 6 receivers because of the need for punt returner. Brandon Williams has been the guy returning punts all pre-season and really, it's an extended audition for a spot on the team. If he can successfully return kicks and punts he can assure himself a spot on the team. Arnaz Battle, the starter, would be next in line and Nolan would not want to put such a valuable player on the line so often. Battle also has lingering knee problems that would only be stressed further if he had to play offense and return punts.
Nolan entertained the idea of Jacobs and even Nate Clements returning punts, but really the most experienced person on the team is Williams, who has been returning punts since high school. While his effectiveness as a kick returner is questionable, he is still the most able at this position.
While you could make an argument for Gilmore, he had his chance last year as the #3 guy and didn't deliver. Maxwell had a great season in NFL Europa and should catch on with another team after he is released.
While the position is still unsettled, one thing certainly is, this will be one of the tougher decisions for the coaching staff to make. Tough calls like this, though, can only mean good things for the 49ers. It means they are getting more talented. And more talent should translate to more wins.
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