Likely starters: Isaac Bruce, Bryant Johnson
Stiffest competition: Ashley Lelie, Arnaz Battle, Jason Hill
Insurance: Jerard Rabb, Dominique Zeigler
Analysis: Uggghh. Remember the days of John Taylor and Jerry Rice, followed by Rice and Terrell Owens? The Niners used to be notorious for drafting the big, physical receiver, a byproduct of Bill Walsh’s insistence on big receiving targets.
Johnson, physically, fits the mold of the old Niners receivers, but he is really a No. 2 receiver (Bruce is targeted as the No. 1)? He actually has decent numbers for the five years he has played in the NFL (all with the Arizona Cardinals): 210 catches (average of 42 per year), 2,675 yards (avg. 535) and nine touchdowns (avg. of 2). If he plays well in training camp, he can definitely secure the No. 2 spot. If he struggles, assuming nobody else steps up, the first receiver the Niners take in the draft will probably get an opportunity to claim a starters spot.
Bruce is all but set as the No. 1. He has experience as a former No. 1 and he has plenty of experience playing for Mike Martz in their time with St. Louis.
As for the rest, well, this is why the Niners need to target a wide receiver, as early as the first round. Lelie has oodles of talent, but he’s about as tough as a noodle. Battle is a role player, a good special teamer. Hill can run fast…that’s it. Rabb and Zeigler are unknown commodities.
This team needs a receiver for Alex Smith. Limas Sweed is a big, physical receiver, but DeSean Jackson might fit better in Martz’s offense. He’s fast, shifty, whatever you want to call him. But Martz can gameplan for a receiver with Jackson’s athleticism. You just worry about HIS toughness, whether he can cope with the physical pounding that receivers receive.
Whether it’s Sweed, Jackson or someone else, the Niners need to strongly look at the position in the first or second round.
Likely Starter: Vernon Davis
Stiffest competition: Delanie Walker
Insurance: Billy Bajema, Brian Jennings
Analysis: If Mike Martz wasn’t the offensive coordinator, I would say “Draft a freaking tight end!” Vernon Davis has glorious athleticism, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a good thing when athletic ability is the greatest thing to say about a player. What about production? Davis could produce more if he could stay on the field. He missed six games his rookie year with an injury and two more last year. He did get his production on the right course, though (52 catches, 509 yards, four touchdowns last year), but he needs to stay on the field. Davis is the best receiving target for Alex Smith.
The rest of the guys are just bodies. Walker had 21 catches last season as a fill-in for Davis. Martz hates using tight ends, though, so don’t expect any picks.