One of the San Francisco 49ers’ biggest weaknesses in 2013 was their lack of depth at the wide receiver position. With Michael Crabtree sidelined for much of the season and Quinton Patton also missing time due to injury, the 49ers had to rely on Anquan Boldin and Kyle Williams, which proved to be not enough for the 49ers’ offense.
Entering the 2014 season, the 49ers are in a much better place, in terms of the wide receiver position. The major players for a roster spot are Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, Steve Johnson, Bruce Ellington, Quinton Patton, Brandon Lloyd, Kassim Osgood, and Jon Baldwin. Chuck Jacobs, Devon Wylie and David Reed are also fighting for spots, but there is very little chance any of those three will make the team.
Crabtree, Boldin, Johnson, Ellington, and Patton are the main candidates to snag spots on the 53-man roster when the regular season starts. Crabtree and Boldin will be the starting receivers, and Johnson will see the majority of the snaps at the third receiver position.
In addition, the 49ers drafted Ellington in the fourth round for a reason, and they want to see what he can do at the NFL level. With Patton also being unproven, the 49ers will certainly want Ellington and Patton to be parts of the team this year.
The 49ers had five wide receivers on their roster last season, so it’s unclear if they will carry more this year beyond the group just mentioned. With that being sorted out, the 49ers are left with decisions that need to be made about Lloyd, Osgood, and Baldwin.
Lloyd was drafted by the 49ers in 2003, and he most recently played for the New England Patriots in 2012. He didn’t play in the NFL last year, and it’s quite possible he will not play in 2014 either. Lloyd is scheduled to make $1 million, but his salary isn’t guaranteed unless he makes the final regular season roster. Lloyd doesn’t provide special teams help, so he’d basically have to beat out Johnson for the third wide receiver spot.
Baldwin restructured his contract and reduced his base salary in 2014 from $1.4 million to $645,000, in order to stay on the 49ers’ offseason roster. However, like Lloyd, he doesn’t have much value on special teams. Patton beat him out as the third wide receiver last season, so it’s likely he will be cut.
Lastly, Osgood could compete for a roster spot. He is rarely used on offense, but he has been a great addition to the 49ers’ special teams unit. Given Baldwin and Lloyd’s inability to play special teams, Osgood has a chance at making the roster. The 49ers might not be inclined to keep six wide receivers on the roster though, because they might want to give one of those roster spots to a younger player.
The 49ers have a lot of decisions to make in terms of the wide receiver position, but this is a good problem to have. Given their lack of depth at wide receiver last year, the 49ers have put themselves in a much better position this year to have an effective, ruthless passing game.