Niners positional draft analysis: WRs

Wide receiver arguably was the 49ers' weakest position in 2005 – and then the team traded away its leading pass-catcher during the offseason. After drafting seven WRs in the past five years but failing to turn any of them into a legitimate No. 1 threat, the Niners likely will try again to add talent to the position through the draft. Here's a look at how the 49ers shape up at WR entering draft weekend, along with an in-depth individual examination of the top WRs available in the college lottery.

WIDE RECEIVERS ON 49ERS ROSTER: Arnaz Battle, Antonio Bryant, Bryan Gilmore, Derrick Hamilton, P.J. Fleck, Otis Amey, Jason McAddley, Marcus Maxwell, Rasheed Marshall.

49ERS FIVE-YEAR REPORT: Total WRs drafted – 7. Still on roster – 4. First-round picks – 1 (Rashaun Woods, 2004). Highest pick – Woods (No. 31 overall).

2006 POSITIONAL DRAFT NEED: The 49ers upgraded at receiver during the offseason, even though they lost Brandon Lloyd – who led the team with 48 receptions for 733 yards in 2005 – to the Washington Redskins in a trade for draft picks. By bringing in Antonio Bryant via free agency, the Niners acquired a rangy, speedy veteran who has better potential than Lloyd as a No. 1 threat. Still, the Niners would love to bring in another young prospect with game-breaking, field-stretching potential through the draft. However, there is no WR out there this year who is worthy of the team's high No. 6 pick in the draft. After trading this week for another first-rounder, the No. 22 overall, the Niners are likely to have a shot at Florida's Chad Jackson or Ohio State's Santonio Holmes – generally regarded by most draft analysts as the best two receivers in this year's draft. The question is whether the 49ers – with so many needs at other positions – want to spend a first-rounder on this position when they have so many young, unproven WRs already on the roster. The 49ers figure to take another year to look at players such as Hamilton, Fleck, Amey, Maxwell and Marshall, but they also figure to add another prospect through the draft at a position of value in the middle rounds, where a player such as Arizona State's Derek Hagan may be available. The 49ers already have had Oregon's Demetrius Williams in for a visit, and he's another candidate for the 49ers if he slips into the middle rounds.

POSITION OVERVIEW: This year's crop of wide receivers is devoid of the Braylon Edwards-type player that will be an immediate impact player. The first wide receiver to go off the board will likely come in the middle of the first round and there's a decent chance that only two – Holmes and Jackson – will go off the board in the first round. That being said, there is talent at the position that will see a handful of players go off the board in each subsequent round, as teams fill needs with players that fit their style of offense. Many of these players have some flaws, but they also have a chance to be something special if put in the right situation. This position might be the biggest crapshoot of them all on draft day, with several diamonds in the rough and just as many draft-day busts.

THE CREAM OF THE CROP

Chad Jackson, Florida, 6-1, 213: Third-year junior…Didn't become a full-time starter until 2005, where he burst on the scene to lead the SEC in receptions, catching 88 passes for 900 yards and nine touchdowns, while rushing 16 times for 100 yards and two more TDs…Has excellent hands and isn't afraid of going over the middle…Has elite speed, but wasn't used as a deep threat in the Florida offense…At his best running underneath and drag routes, where he can use his speed to create openings…Makes the spectacular catch…Seen as having the most upside potential of any wide receiver in the draft…Has decent upper body strength to beat jams at the line…Did some kick returning in college…Did not show consistent blocking skills…Drops a lot of passes…Needs to refine route running because he was used more as a dink-and-dunk receiver in college…Played in an offense that doesn't relate well to the pro game, so his game will need a lot of defining…Wowed scouts at the Combine by running a 4.32 40 with a 38½ inch vertical jump and a 10-2 broad jump.
Projection: Jackson has to live with the knock that other Florida receivers have had over the years – great college players that don't see that same success in the pros. But, like players like Javon Walker and Troy Williamson over the past couple of years, his impressive speed numbers and athletic skills at the Combine make him a tantalizing pick that likely will go off the board somewhere in the middle third of the first round.

Santonio Holmes, Ohio State, 5-10½, 179: Fourth-year junior…Two-year starter who caught 108 passes for 1,746 yards and 18 touchdowns in that span…Two-time state track relay champion in high school…Cousin of Jacksonville RB Fred Taylor…A strong kickoff and punt returner…Has great initial burst and is a home run threat on every play…Stops and starts very quickly and makes college corners look bad…Will make spectacular catches in traffic…Will make catches on the run at full speed…Hits full speed quickly, which makes him dangerous in the return game…A little smaller than most scouts like…Has been labeled with an attitude problem – he reminds some of Randy Moss in the respect that he pouts and doesn't give the same effort if the ball isn't coming his way…Waits to let a ball get into his body too often instead of plucking it with his hands…Skinny and will have problems getting separation from strong NFL corners on the jam…Ran an impressive 4.34 40 at the Combine, with a 38-inch vertical jump and a 10-6 broad jump.
Projection: He is the most talented wide receiver in the draft, but his cocky attitude may turn off some teams in the era of Terrell Owens, Moss and Keyshawn Johnson. If he gets in the right system and buys into it, he could be an All-Pro within two or three years. But, with character being a huge issue with many teams, he will probably be the second wideout taken on draft day – in the middle to late portion of the first round.

Sinorice Moss, Miami, 5-8, 185: Fourth-year senior…Brother of Redskins WR Santana Moss…Didn't become a full-time starter until last year when he replaced Roscoe Parrish and caught 37 passes for 614 yards and six touchdowns…A dangerous return man, although he has limited experience…Team captain in 2005…Named MVP of the Senior Bowl with a huge week of practice and a couple of huge catches in the game…Like his brother, he has tremendous speed and hits high gear almost instantly…Catches almost everything thrown his way…Very hard to handle in man coverage because he hits his cuts very fast and can set up DBs with stop-and-go moves…A home run threat on every play…Tremendous leaper who catches the ball at the top of jump…Very undersized and will get pushed around by physical corners…Has missed time with several minor, nagging injuries…Needs to get more upper body strength…Has trouble beating jams…Isn't going to be able to add much bulk…Needs a lot of work on blocking skills…Impressed at the Combine, running a 4.38 40 with a 42-inch vertical jump and a 10-3 broad jump.
Projection: Has a good bloodline, which will likely increase his stock. In a stronger class, he likely would drop into the middle of the second round, but without a deep pool of talent in the Class of '06, he has a chance to make it into the first round and could be an ideal replacement for Antwaan Randle-El for the Steelers at the end of the round if he's still on the board.

THE NEXT LEVEL

Maurice Stovall, Notre Dame, 6-4½, 217: Fourth-year senior who began his playing career at Notre Dame as a 17-year-old true freshman…A two-year starter but exploded under the Charlie Weis offense – catching 69 passes for 1,149 yards and 11 touchdowns – exceeding the totals of his previous three years combined…Very big and muscular body…Size and long arms create a lot of potential mismatches…Uses his body well to shield off defenders in traffic…Makes the spectacular catch look routine…A good blocker who willingly drops his head and delivers a shot…Drops too many catchable passes and has lapses in concentration…Takes longer than scouts like to get to top speed in his routes…Is brought down too easily after the catch on many plays…Doesn't have great speed and will never be a go-to No. 1 deep threat receiver in the NFL…Ran a 4.57 40 at the Combine (the second-slowest time of receivers at the Combine that are expected to be drafted in the first four or five rounds) with a 35-inch vertical jump and a 10-4 broad jump.
Projection: Stovall has a lot of the same type of qualities Nate Burleson had coming out of college. He's been branded as slow, yet averaged almost 17 yards a catch as a senior. He needs a coaching staff that will push him and re-teach him the fundamentals. But, once he does, he could develop into a strong No. 2 type receiver like Burleson was with Randy Moss or Keenan McCardell has been for years. He could be a great sleeper pick in the second round.

Derek Hagen, Arizona State, 6-1¾, 208: Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who caught 226 passes for 3,534 and 27 touchdowns in that span…Holds just about every ASU receiving record and set new Pac 10 records for career receptions (258) and touchdowns (27) – considering how many outstanding receivers the Pac 10 has produced over the years, that's quite an accomplishment…His consistent production is impressive – averaging between six and seven catches a game in his final three years…Strong route runner…Can make cuts at full-speed and lose defenders…Reads zone coverages very well and finds the open soft spot consistently…Popular with teammates and coaches, but gives an inconsistent effort in blocking that kills off running plays that wouldn't have been if he had given more effort…Doesn't like to catch passes over the middle and won't lay out in a crowd…Doesn't beat the jam very effectively in press coverage…Drops too many passes, especially over the middle…Prior to the Combine, his stock was dropping because scouts said he didn't have the speed to be a top prospect. He responded by running a 4.42 40 (behind only Moss, Holmes and Jackson listed above), displayed a 39½ inch vertical jump and a 10-4 broad jump.
Projection: The knock on Hagen was that his lack of speed and that he was "soft." He'll have to prove otherwise on the latter, but showed at the Combine that he has the speed to be an effective NFL receiver and has the potential to be a steal in the middle portion of the second round.

Travis Williams, Oklahoma, 6-2, 214: Fourth-year senior…Only a part-time starter his entire career, with his best year coming as a junior when he caught 50 passes for 660 yards and 11 touchdowns…Started just seven games in 2005 and was slowed in some of them with a stress fracture in foot that required surgery in November – finishing the season with 25-310-1 receiving numbers…Big, strong and physical…A hard worker who doesn't mind doing the little things to help the team…Intelligent…Can beat press coverage…Willingly will go over the middle and make the tough catch…Will catch poorly thrown passes…Has return experience…Doesn't have great top-end speed and takes a while to get to full tilt…Doesn't have explosion to be a deep threat…Injuries are a concern for some teams and a red flag for others…Catches too many passes in close to his body instead of with his hands…Struggled with a freshman QB in 2005 and seemed to lose focus due to his foot injury…Ran a 4.50 40 at the Combine, with a 36½ inch vertical jump and a 10-0 broad jump.
Projection: Williams suffered a major setback in 2005 and didn't do enough in 2004 to distinguish himself among the other top receivers in the draft. He has all the potential to be a solid NFL receiver, but will likely have to wait until the end of the second or more likely the third round to get drafted.

Michael Robinson, Penn State, 6-1, 219: Fifth-year senior who played quarterback, running back and wide receiver for Joe Paterno…Started every game at QB for PSU last year, completing 162 of 311 passes for 2,350 yards with 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, while rushing 163 times for 932 yards and 11 TDs…His most experience at wide receiver was in 2004, when he started three times and in seven games caught 33 passes for 485 yards and three TDs…Graduated in 2004 and is going to grad school…A tremendous pure athlete who has already drawn pre-draft comparisons to Kordell Stewart and Antwaan Randle-El for his potential by a "Slash" type of multi-tasker…Very quick and elusive in the open field and has great cutback and stop-and-start ability…Very good lower body strength…Showed willingness to work out with receivers and return specialists at the Combine – proving to teams that, while he's raw, he can do both effectively…His biggest problem may be that he wants to keep playing quarterback, even though his completion percentage was less than 50 percent for his college career…Has never played one position long enough to master it…Has to learn to better run routes and read defenses from the receiver perspective…Was ineffective at the Senior Bowl when used as a slot receiver – his most likely NFL landing spot…Ran a 4.56 40 at the Combine with 12 reps of 225 pounds, a 32½ inch vertical jump and a 9-11 broad jump.
Projection: If the Steelers don't take a WR earlier, he could be an ideal candidate, considering their past history on "Slash" types. Otherwise, he's a two- to three-year project with a lot of upside – even if it just for the occasional gadget plays and special teams duty. A third-rounder who someone will be happy to get.

THE BEST OF THE REST

Demetrius Williams, Oregon, 6-1¾, 197: Fifth-year senior…A three-year starter who caught 157 passes for 2,597 yards and 20 touchdowns in that span…Had a huge season as a freshman (51-935-8) and as a senior (59-1,059-10), but did little as a junior while battling shin splints…Has good size and can cause problems for shorter corners because of his leaping ability…Makes the tough catch and will battle defenders…Dangerous red zone target who is adept at going up after the alley-oop jump …Gets to top speed quickly…Earned rave reviews for his drill work at the Combine, catching just about everything thrown to him…Is too skinny and will need to add some muscle mass…Not an efficient blocker…Viewed by some scouts as a one-trick pony whose only route is a deep post…Needs to refine running different routes…A non-factor for long stretches at times…Doesn't appear to like contact and avoids a big hit when possible…Ran a 4.46 40 at the Combine with a 38-inch vertical jump and a 10-7 broad jump.
Projection: Williams can be a dangerous deep threat, but is a project that will have to add about 15 pounds of muscle to be effective in the NFL. He's a project that is iffy to be taken on the first day of the draft.

Jason Avant, Michigan, 6-0½, 209: Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who, after catching 85 passes for 1,219 yards and five touchdowns as a sophomore and junior combined, blew up for 82-1,007-8 as a senior…Broke his right hand at Michigan's Pro Day workout…Is a very proficient receiver who runs precise routes and looks NFL-ready…Has a nice combination of size and strength, especially upper body strength…Was one of the few wide receivers to lift at the Combine and did 20 reps with 225 pounds – better than several of the top tight end prospects…Has soft hands…Reads zone coverages well and finds the open area…Has good leaping ability and is used extensively in the red zone…Catches passes at top speed, even over the middle…Doesn't have sprinter's speed and doesn't usually outrun defenders for long completions on short passes…Will struggle to get separation vs. good NFL corners…Has never returned kicks…Has durability questions because he had a string of mild injuries that sidelined him during several games (but none that saw him miss entire games the last two years)…Ran a 4.50 40 at the Combine, with 20 reps, a 37-inch vertical jump and a 10-4 broad jump.
Projection: His broken hand might be a concern, but Avant is a player who will have to prove himself as a receiver (or learn special teams quickly) to be an effective pro. He had a big season in 2005 and has the ability to be a good No. 2 receiver, but he will take time. He's got a shot at going in the third round, but more likely the second day.

Mike Hass, Oregon State, 6-0¾, 207: Fifth-year senior who was a walk-on in 2001 and went on to break school records…Three-year starter who caught 220 passes for 3,924 yards and 20 touchdowns (both school records) with 176-2,911-13 coming in his final two years…Won the Biletnikoff Award in 2005 – given to college football's top wide receiver…Broke the single-season Pac 10 record for receiving yards in a season (1,532) in 2005…Impressed at the East-West Shrine Game, catching four passes for 107 yards and a touchdown…Good route runner…Great initial burst out of his cuts at full speed consistently…Excels against zone coverage…Has good strength to beat jams at the line…Likes to mix it up and seems to enjoy delivering hits as a blocker…Doesn't have top-end speed to translate his numbers to the NFL and his Combine run was among the worst for all wide receivers…Takes a long time to get up to full speed (for him)…Ran a 4.58 40 at the Combine with a 36½ inch vertical jump and a 9-8 broad jump.
Projection: Hass has Ricky Proehl written all over him. A lot of players have made productive careers out of being possession receivers that move the chains. He doesn't have the workout numbers that pop out at you, he has no value as a return man, but his production is so enormous that he could end up with a long NFL career that will include a handful of season with 50+ receptions. He could be a steal in the fourth round.

Brad Smith, Missouri, 6-2¼, 213: Fifth-year senior…A college quarterback who was a four-year starter – throwing for 8,799 yards with 56 touchdowns – both school records…His 4,289 rushing yards broke the all-time record for a quarterback – surpassing that of Antwaan Randle-El with Indiana…First player in NCAA D-I history to pass for more than 2,000 yards and rush for more than 1,000 yards twice…Tremendous athletic ability…Makes sharp cuts that make tacklers miss…Was Missouri's best rusher last season…Teams put spies on him because his breakaway skill…Gets to top-end speed very quickly…A home run hitter in the open field…Has never played receiver and will be a work in progress…Will have lot to learn because, as quarterback, he was never asked to block on running plays…Seems unwilling to want to move to wide receiver – he opted to work out with the quarterbacks at the Combine…Played wide receiver at the Hula Bowl and was consistently jammed by corners and slowed at the line…Ran a 4.46 40 at the Combine with a 39½ inch vertical jump and a 10-8 broad jump.
Projection: As long as he continues to think of himself as a quarterback only, he will likely be kept off some teams' draft boards. His future is at wide receiver, where he has many of the same qualities Kordell Stewart came to the league with out of Colorado. He may still commit time to playing QB, but if he thinks he's going to be a full-time quarterback his sights had better be on the CFL – which could also cause some teams to lose interest if that's his thinking. He should go early on Day 2 and, with time, could develop into a playmaker.

Greg Lee, Pittsburgh, 6-1¾, 197: Third-year junior…Two-year starter who spent his freshman season playing behind Larry Fitzgerald of the Cardinals…In his two years as the Panthers' top receiver, he led the Big East in receiving yardage both years – catching 117 passes for 2,259 yards and 17 touchdowns…For his career, he averaged a whopping 19.4 yards a catch…A highlight-reel receiver who snatches the ball out of the air with his fingertips at full speed…Has good upper body strength and is hard to beat up in press coverage…Doesn't have great top-end speed or a second gear in the open field and, when jammed, needs time to pick up speed…Isn't effective making the tough catch over the middle and seems to hear footsteps when safeties are in the area…Drops too many passes…Comes down a little too easily after the catch and doesn't make D-backs miss often enough…Isn't a strong run blocker and will need to work on his technique and commit to that part of the game…Ran a 4.55 40 at the Combine with a 35½ inch vertical jump and a 10-2 broad jump.
Projection: He's no Fitzgerald, but he does have skills to offer an NFL team. He might have done himself by a favor by staying another year in school, because he will likely be on the board late in Day One and has the potential to go undrafted until the picks start going off the board Sunday – which would make for a long Saturday night of second-guessing around his house.

OTHERS TO WATCH

Hank Baskett, New Mexico, 6-3, 222
Skyler Green, LSU, 5-9¼, 192
Greg Jennings, Western Michigan, 5-11¼, 197
Brandon Marshall, Central Florida, 6-4, 229
Martin Nance, Miami (Ohio), 6-4¼, 213
Jonathon Orr, Wisconsin, 6-1¾, 196
Willie Reed, Florida State, 5-10½, 188
Todd Watkins, Brigham Young, 6-2½, 202
Jeff Webb, San Diego State, 6-2¼, 208
Brandon Williams, Wisconsin, 5-9½, 179

John Holler of VikingUpdate.com contributed to this report


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