Season in review: Wide receivers

SFI breaks down the 49ers' 2005 season by position. Today: Wide receivers

Starters in season opener: SE Brandon Lloyd, FL Arnaz Battle, SL Johnnie Morton (team began season opener in three-receiver set)

Starters in season finale: SE Brandon Lloyd, FL Arnaz Battle

Unit MVP: Brandon Lloyd

Biggest disappointment Rashaun Woods/Rasheed Marshall

On the rise: Arnaz Battle

On the slide: Johnnie Morton

What went right: Battle, in his first season as a starter, developed into a legitimate go-over-the-middle threat who displayed toughness along with the ability to make the difficult catch. Battle also was superb as a downfield blocker and his versatility added other dimensions to the offense. Lloyd's ability to make the spectacular, leaping one-handed catch flourished in his third NFL season as he made several highlight-reel grabs. Lloyd produced the first three 100-yard receiving games of his career, including a 142-yard afternoon against Dallas during which he had two touchdown receptions. One of those was an 89-yarder in which Lloyd got behind the Dallas secondary and then out-ran the Cowboys to the end zone – the sixth-longest reception in 49ers history. Lloyd led the team with 48 receptions for 733 yards and five touchdowns, and his 15.3-yard average was the best by a team leader since Terrell Owens averaged 15.6 yards per catch in 1997. When he was able to play, Battle seemed more productive than his numbers (32, 363, 11.3, 3) might suggest. Morton was able to break free for several big catches – he had a reception of 24 yards or more in four different games – and finished with an average of 13.7 yards per catch. Veteran Jason McAddley, getting plenty of late-season work because of injuries to others, averaged 17.9 yards on his seven receptions.

What went wrong: Rashaun Woods, the team's No. 1 draft pick in 2004, missed extensive time in training camp for the second consecutive year, failed to impress the new regime when he was healthy, then went on injured reserve at the end of September with a thumb injury without having played one down in the team's first three games. Derrick Hamilton, a third-round pick in 2004, tore knee ligaments in May and never was able to make it back to show what he could do after moving up the depth chart during the offseason. The three rookies to make the team – fifth-round pick Marshall, seventh-round pick Marcus Maxwell and undrafted free agent Otis Amey – combined to make only one reception for minus-1 yards. Marshall, in particular, was a bust as he struggled to make the transition to receiver after being a star quarterback in college. Amey won the No. 4 receiver role entering the season but failed to distinguish himself and faded from the game plan. Though Lloyd displayed rare ability making the tough grabs, he lacked consistency and had trouble getting open on a regular basis, particularly when opposing secondaries ganged up on him when Battle was injured. That happened often as Battle missed six games with a knee injury and played sparingly in two others, continuing his history of being unable to stay healthy since entering the NFL in 2003. With Battle injured, Morton was asked to start 10 games, which was much more than the team had planned to use the 12-year veteran. Resultingly, he wasn't fresh at the end of games, and the 49ers made him inactive for their final two games to take a look at younger receivers.

Looking forward in 2006: The 49ers need a legitimate receiving threat – ideally, a game-breaking talent – to add to their receiver corps, and they must find one during the offseason. Battle will be a part of the future plans as he signed a multi-year contract extension at the end of last season, but no one else is certain to return as a factor on this unit. The team probably will offer a one-year tender to Lloyd, a restricted free agent, but bringing in another threat to complement Battle and Lloyd – and perhaps move ahead of one or both on the depth chart – will be a top priority. Morton is unlikely to be asked back, so the 49ers must make firm decisions in the offseason regarding the plethora of young receivers on the roster – Woods, Hamilton and P.J. Fleck each missed the entire season with injuries – and whether any of them (including Maxwell, Marshall and Amey) can be expected to be contributors in 2006, which is something this team sorely needs from one or more of them. With the college draft lacking in impact receivers, the 49ers may go free-agent shopping to bring in a new starter here, but the team will strike high in the draft for a receiver if the right prospect is available at the right time.

Final 2005 unit grade: D-plus

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