Stock watch: Wide receiver

Now that Michael Crabtree's back on the field with the 49ers, the dynamics have changed for the team at wide receiver, where a group of tightly-bunched talents are competing for final roster spots. After two young WRs were waived Tuesday, the Niners still have 10 on their roster, and with that number likely to be cut in half by Saturday, here's a look at who's moving up and down at the position.


Kyle Williams: The second-year veteran probably has done as much or more than any other young receiver to solidify his standing on the team after his injury-plagued rookie season last year cast some doubt on Williams' durability and capacity to contribute. But Williams has shown great ability from the slot and also sure hands in catching the ball on the run. He has been the team's leading receiver with five receptions for 74 yards in the preseason, making plays in each of San Francisco's three exhibition games, and also has an 11-yard punt return to his credit. Heading into San Francisco's final exhibition game Thursday at San Diego, Williams looks like the leader in the competition for the team's No. 5 wideout role – and he could be pushing for a role even higher than that in the pecking order – and would appear to be a roster lock if the Niners decide to keep six receivers.

Braylon Edwards: You could tell that Edwards would be one of the most physically gifted wideouts on the San Francisco roster just by looking at him the day he joined the team earlier this month. But Edwards hasn't just rested on the pure talent that has established him in the NFL. He has worked hard since arriving in San Francisco to become a key component of the team's developing offense and also to be a positive locker-room presence after some dubious off-the-field episodes in recent years raised questions about his character. Edwards has all the tools to be a legitimate No. 1 receiver, and even though the 49ers continue to list him second on the depth chart behind Ted Ginn Jr. at split end, Edwards has shown everybody that he deserves to be on the field – and that the 49ers need him there – as much as any other wide receiver come September.

Michael Crabtree: The fact that he is back on the field and practicing in August gives Crabtree a reasonable shot at playing in the season opener and, certainly, contributing at some point early in the season. It appears Crabtree still has to get everything right with his foot to be full-go, so he'll have to ease back into action, and that won't happen until late this week or early next week since he won't play in Thursday's preseason finale. But the guy is an undeniable talent, and since coach Jim Harbaugh says he has been impressed with the way Crabtree has been absorbing the offense off the field and in meetings, Crabtree seems certain to be worked into the offense in a prominent role once he is ready, which shouldn't be long if he's healthy enough to come off PUP this early before the season.


Joshua Morgan: Even though signing Edwards was not a good sign for Morgan as far as him remaining San Francisco's No. 2 receiver, the fourth-year veteran has done nothing this summer to lose his starting role. Morgan has been both solid and consistent, and he spent a lot of time in training camp as the team's featured wideout with Crabtree out and Edwards working his way in. Morgan displayed his ability to go over the middle and hit the big play during his 32-yard catch-and-run against the Raiders on Aug. 20. Whether or not he's still a starter by the end of the year, Morgan figures to hold down a prominent role at this position throughout the season.

Lance Long: Long has remained second on the depth chart behind Morgan at flanker throughout the summer, and he has pretty much done everything asked of him, running sharp routes and tying Williams for the team lead during the exhibition season with five receptions. Long ended last season on San Francisco's practice squad after catching 20 passes for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2009. But he is small and strictly an underneath possession receiver, and he will have to beat out either an established veteran or promising youngster to stick on the final roster at the end of this week.


Ted Ginn Jr.: Ginn impressed coaches during training camp with his skill, work ethic and determination, even if he still had occasional issues with dropped passes. He remains listed as the starting split end on the team's depth chart today, even though his performance has been spotty in exhibition games, where Ginn has just two receptions for 14 yards. He only played two series against the Texans, however, recording an eight-yard reception on San Francisco's second play from scrimmage, Ginn's longest catch of the preseason. Ginn's roster status doesn't appear in question, but his chances of remaining first on the depth chart much longer appeared to take a big hit once Crabtree stepped back on the field, and Ginn could slip to the No. 4 role at the position once Edwards moves ahead of him as expected.

Dominique Zeigler: Zeigler had a 10-yard reception last week against the Texans, doing what he does best – slipping open and catching the football with sure hands. What's working against Zeigler is his late arrival to the practice field this summer because of the knee injury that put him on injured reserve last November. He has missed out on a lot of developmental time and evaluation time that allowed other wideouts to seemingly move ahead of him in the minds of coaches, and that could affect their final decisions when it comes time to determine who stays and who goes at wide receiver. Zeigler has not had much time to show the new coaching staff what he can do, but he remains a capable receiver who is worthy of the 53-man roster like he was in 2008 and 2010, when Zeigler averaged 13.9 yards on his 14 combined receptions.


Ronald Johnson: The team's sixth-round draft pick had a solid training camp and definitely has some NFL skills. But he needed to show that he could hang with the big boys during the exhibition season, and Saturday's game against the Texans was his worst performance yet. In his most significant action of the preseason, Johnson dropped a third-down pass right in his hands that halted San Francisco's first drive of the second half. He was the intended target for two other passes but finished the night with no receptions, which also is his total through three preseason games. Perhaps Johnson's worst blunder Saturday came during his opportunities as a punt returner, when he muffed one punt before picking it up and then fumbled his next attempt for a turnover, making a poor decision to race up late on a kick that was tailing in front of him. Johnson had a 23-yard punt return in the exhibition opener at New Orleans, but he has gone backward since to the point he now has a 4.3 average return on his four preseason punt-return attempts.

Chris Hogan: The 49ers like the talent level of the robust 6-foot-1, 220-pound undrafted free agent, but he has been an afterthought at wide receiver during the preseason and did not even play in last week's game against the Texans. There is no place for Hogan among the final berths here as he still is a developmental prospect at the position. Hogan's versatility, however, could get him a September call to join the practice squad.

Joe Hastings: The undrafted free agent got on the field for San Francisco's final three offensive plays of last week's game, but he did not see any balls come his way, which has been the story for Hastings throughout the preseason. Making it past the first cut gives the Washburn product another week with the 49ers, but he has little chance to make it past the next cut.

Niners Digest Top Stories