Hit or miss?

If the 49ers' hit-and-miss pattern of drafting wide receivers in the first round remains true, Rashaun Woods will follow Gene Washington and Jerry Rice on a path to stardom and avoid the disappointing fates of Terry Beasley and J.J. Stokes. But how much really can be expected from Woods as a rookie? Consider this: Take away Anquan Boldin - a second-round pick last year - and only one of the other 35 WRs taken in the 2003 draft finished among the top 50 leading receivers in either the AFC or NFC.

Like the other four true wideouts the Niners have selected in the first round, Woods will be expected to come in and make an immediate impact - and a lasting one.

Washington and Rice both did that as rookies, signifying the kind of receivers they would become throughout their careers. Washington started all 14 games as a rookie in 1969 and led the 49ers in receiving with 51 catches for 711 yards. Rice started four games in 1985 but finished second on the team among receivers with 49 receptions for 927 yards.

Washington became a three-time All-Pro and offensive mainstay of San Francisco's run to three consecutive NFC West titles from 1970-72. Rice became the greatest receiver of all time and helped the Niners win three of their five Super Bowl titles.

It was different for Beasley and Stokes, taken in the first-round, respectively, in 1972 and 1995.

Beasley caught one pass as a rookie and finished as a bust with just 38 receptions in four seasons with the Niners. Stokes broke his hand in training camp as a rookie and missed the season's first four games, but showed promise after he returned with 38 receptions for 517 yards. But he would top that 38-catch total only three times in his final seven seasons with the team and never lived up to lofty expectations.

Since the Niners hit with Washington, missed with Beasley, hit with Rice and missed with Stokes, that pattern suggests the team will hit with Woods, who already has made a positive impression on his new coaches and teammates so far this spring.

"He's showed us he's a very athletic, very polished receiver," Niners coach Dennis Erickson said. "He's very fluid, he catches the football extremely well, he has good hands."

The Niners need Woods to take those skills and establish himself in the starting lineup by the season opener, and make an immediate impact once he's there. But recent history suggests that is not an easy thing for rookie receivers to do, whether they're first-rounders or not.

Besides Boldin - who was third in the NFL with a rookie-record 101 receptions - only Houston's Andre Johnson made any significant impact among rookie receivers last year, finishing 13th in the AFC with 66 receptions.

Of the three receivers taken in the first round in 2002, New Orleans' Donte Stallworth had the most impact, finishing 44th in the NFC with 42 catches. The other two first-rounders that year - Denver's Ashlie Lelie and Green Bay's Javon Walker - failed to make a considerable impact even on their own teams as rookies.

The Niners are looking for much more from Woods, lest he start drawing comparisons to Stokes or - in a worst-case scenario - Beasley, two touted receivers who really let down the 49ers on their investment.

Niners Digest Top Stories