Rumors have been swirling about the 49ers and there supposed interest in trading up to acquire Alabama WR Amari Cooper in the NFL draft.
Whether these claims end up having any merit or not remains to be seen, but the notion that San Francisco would even entertain this idea helps hammer home a bigger point: The 49ers desperately need a receiver.
On the surface, the depth chart may not give the impression that the team is in dire straits by any means. After all, WR Anquan Boldin and WR Torrey Smith are penciled in as starters, while WR Bruce Ellington and WR Quinton Patton are young players who offer upside. WR Jerome Simpson was also signed this offseason to add depth.
When you look deeper however, you’ll see that beyond Boldin and Smith may be a significant drop off, and there could be a gaping hole in the very near future.
Boldin’s contract can be voided after the season, and while he’s unquestionably been the Niner’s number one option the past two years, he’ll be 35 in October. Because of his age and unknown contract status, there’s no guarantee he’ll be a viable option in 2016. It’s not out of the question that he could be brought back for another year, but he’s not a long term answer.
Smith, however, does appear to be more of a long term solution. He’s 26 years-old and the 49ers will have him under contract for the next five seasons. He brings a big play ability that the team hasn’t had on the outside in a very long time. But while Smith is excellent at what he does, he’s more of a complementary player. What I mean by “complementary” is that he’s a speedster who can take the top off of a defense, but not a number one type receiver who has the ability to be a 100 catch guy.
In four seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, Smith only caught more than 50 passes just once (2013). For his career, he averages 3.3 receptions per game. He has made the most out of those receptions though, by averaging 16.9 yards per catch and scoring on 14 percent of them. Again, fantastic at what he does, but will need someone on the other side to help move the chains underneath.
That’s where the 49ers might have a problem. In the near future, or if there’s an injury, they don’t have anyone who has proven that they can be a big time producer in the passing game.
Ellington is an exciting player, but at 5-9 and 190 pounds, he’s not a prototypical wide out. He can be a nice piece to the offense and the 49ers will have the ability to move him around to exploit matchups, but Ellington’s not an option to start on the outside.
The notion of Patton breaking out at this point seems as little far fetched, as he’s only managed six receptions in two seasons. He could be a role player for San Francisco, but I’m not sure he’s more than that at this point.
Odds on the team spending big money in free agency next offseason at this position are slim to none after giving Smith such a big contract, and you can never count on someone like WR Brandon Marshall being available again via a trade. That’s why this draft is so important.
There are enough holes in the roster now that it wouldn’t be smart for the 49ers to give up a significant amount of their picks to move up into the top six to get someone like Cooper. If he falls past the Chicago Bears at number seven, then he may drop enough to make a trade more realistic for San Francisco.
If this scenario doesn’t present itself though, the 49ers will still have options in the form of Louisville’s WR DeVante Parker, Arizona State’s WR Jaelen Strong or Missouri’s WR Dorial Green-Beckham. They could also wait to address receiver in later rounds if someone like Michigan’s WR Devin Funchess catches their eye.
It doesn’t matter as much how GM Trent Baalke and his brain trust maneuver themselves to get a receiver, as long as they get the right guy. If it’s another swing and miss like WR A.J. Jenkins, it could set the team back significantly.