Comparing the NFC West: SF catching up at WR

The 49ers used to be the laughingstock of the NFC West at wide receiver, but times have changed. So much, in fact, that with the addition of former Pro Bowler Braylon Edwards, the Niners arguably have moved to the top of the division at the position. Here's a look at where each team stands at WR as we continue our position-by-position comparison breakdown of the NFC West.

Edwards joins a unit that includes Michael Crabtree and two other veterans who have extensive starting experience and have established themselves to some degree in the league. It promises to be the deepest and most talented WR corps the 49ers have had in perhaps the last decade.

Arizona has the division's best receiver in Larry Fitzgerald, who had another big year in 2010 despite having not nearly as much offensive talent around him as in previous seasons. Fitzgerald led all NFC West wideouts with 90 receptions for 1,137 yards last season with six scoring grabs.

The Cardinals lost their No. 2 threat behind Fitzgerald last year to free agency as Steve Breaston left to sign a five-year contract with the Kansas City Chiefs. Arizona still is identifying who will complement Fitzgerald.

The Rams and Seahawks both added free agents who are expected to move in as No. 1 targets on what were weak WR units last year. Sidney Rice is the new guy in Seattle, and Mike Sims-Walker joins an unheralded group in St. Louis that features two returnees who had 600 yards or more receiving for the Rams last year.

Here's the breakdown of the NFC West's wide receivers:


Starters: Braylon Edwards, Joshua Morgan
Backups : Michael Crabtree, Ted Ginn Jr., Kyle Williams

Unit analysis: Edwards and Ginn are listed as co-starters on the 49ers' depth chart at split end this week, but expect Edwards to have the bigger role, particularly as the season progresses. Crabtree is still hobbled with his recovery from a broken foot and will likely be the eventual starter, but by the looks of things, he might not be ready for the opener. He made it through to the end of practice on Wednesday, however, so he might be worked into the game plan by this Sunday. Edwards, Ginn and Crabtree give the 49ers three high first-round talents here, and both Edwards and Crabtee have potential to be legitimate No. 1 NFL receivers, a role Edwards has held previously in the league. Edwards is working slower than expected, but he's putting in the time and already looks to have better chemistry with Alex Smith than Crabtree. Morgan is a solid possession receiver who can make the occasional big play downfield at flanker, and Williams also could contribute as a slot receiver if he can work his way onto the field past the talent ahead of him.

NinersDigest rank in division: 1

Arizona Cardinals

Starters: Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts
Backups : Early Doucet, Chansi Stuckey, Stephen Williams, DeMarco Sampson

Unit analysis: Fitzgerald is still as good a wide receiver as anyone else in the NFL, and he remains the undisputed king of the NFC West at the position. Roberts replaces Steve Breaston, who averaged 15.3 yards on 47 receptions last year as a solid No. 2 complement to Fitzgerald. Coaches thought Breaston wasn't as explosive as he once was, and Roberts' speed and quickness is underrated. Roberts averaged 12.8 yards on 27 receptions last year, including a team-best 74-yarder, but he's yet to prove he can fill this role. Doucet has suffered injuries in each of his previous three seasons and the rest of the group is unproven. Stuckey is a solid veteran and both Williams and Sampson have great upside and give the Cards two long, rangy receivers coming off the bench.

NinersDigest rank in division: 2

St. Louis Rams

Starters: Mike Sims-Walker, Brandon Gibson, Danny Amendola.
Backups : Danario Alexander, Mark Clayton, Austin Pettis, Greg Salas, Dominique Curry.

Unit analysis: The addition of Sims-Walker, the development of Gibson and the selection of Pettis and Salas in the draft have made for a very crowded position. It got even more competitive when Clayton was signed Aug. 31. Sims-Walker has played with confidence through camp, but he has to stay healthy. Gibson, who had some good moments last season, has probably been the most improved player in training camp. He has stayed healthy and has the ability to go up and get the ball. Amendola – who led the Rams last year with 85 receptions for 689 yards – is consistent day in and day out, and coordinator Josh McDaniels hopes to devise ways to get him the ball in places where he can get more yards after the catch. Alexander does things that no other Rams receiver can do, but he has had five surgeries on his left knee. Pettis and Salas are works in progress as rookies. Curry made the roster because of his special teams ability.

NinersDigest rank in division: 4

Seattle Seahawks

Starters: Mike Williams, Sidney Rice
Backups : Ben Obomanu, Golden Tate, Kris Durham, Doug Baldwin.

Unit analysis: Rice is the most talented receiver Seattle has had on its roster in decades, and he could be the first Seahawks' receiver to make the Pro Bowl since Brian Blades went to Hawaii in 1989. He was limited by injuries to 17 receptions last year, but that followed a breakout 2009 season in Minnesota during which Rice had 83 receptions for 1,312 yards and eight TDs. After being considered one of the bigger draft busts of the past decade, Williams had a solid comeback in his first year with the Seahawks last season, leading the team with 65 receptions. He's a big, sure-handed target who will be a nice complement to Rice. Seattle likes the overall depth at this position, but expect Tate to emerge and play a larger role in the offense in his second season.

NinersDigest rank in division: 3

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