The 49ers have fewer concerns than most teams, but with two weeks to go until the regular season starts there’s no getting around it — the receiving corps isn’t all that great. There isn’t much after Anquan Boldin, and without Delanie Walker around they’re probably going to need Vernon Davis to block sometimes.
I’ve always been intrigued by Kyle Williams’ potential, but he’s short and coming off a torn ACL — not exactly qualities teams are looking for in a No. 2 receiver. Marlon Moore is a hard worker who’s very personable, but he has a grand total of 12 receptions in the NFL. The rest of the receiving options are either unproven, concussion-prone or rookies.
Expecting Davis to jump in and catch twice as many balls to make up for the loss of Crabtree is unrealistic. The 49ers are still a running team, as they should be since they have the best run-blocking offensive line in the league. But even this line will need some help creating running lanes, and Bruce Miller can’t play fullback and tight end at the same time.
The 49ers have three upper-echelon playmakers in Boldin, Davis and Frank Gore (besides Colin Kaepernick, of course). But they have two intriguing players who could complement that trio quite nicely, two players I’m looking forward to seeing on Sunday … yes, even more than anyone vying for a backup quarterback job.
Vance McDonald and Kendall Hunter.
According to Harbaugh, both will play against the Vikings:
McDonald was off for about a week with an injury of some sort (hamstring?), but even though he’s only played in one preseason game he has more receiving yards (66) than anyone else on the team. He also leads the team in yards per catch (16.5). McDonald is far from a finished product; his blocking needs work and he dropped a couple balls against the Broncos. But he got open with relative ease against Denver, something he’s done in practice throughout the summer. McDonald possesses the size and mobility to create mismatches no matter who lines up against him, and with Davis around they don’t need him to be an elite blocker yet. They just need guys Kaepernick can target.
Hunter hasn’t played in a game since Nov. 25, when he partially tore his left Achilles. While he probably could’ve returned to the field a week or two ago, Hunter’s absence thus far showed the 49ers that they could use another productive back. Frank Gore has rushed twice for 54 yards in the preseason, but Jewel Hampton, LaMichael James, Anthony Dixon and D.J. Harper have combined to rush 42 times for 101 yards (2.4 ypc). Hunter averaged 5.2 yards per carry last year, and looks like his old self in practice.
Hunter isn’t just a change-of-pace from Gore; he’s shown some ability as a receiver in his first two seasons (25 receptions for 255 yards), and was recently named as one of the Top 25 NFL Breakout Prospects by Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders. Hunter also has a lot to play for this preseason — not only does he have an opportunity to pass James on the depth chart (which shouldn’t be too difficult), he’s also aware that the 49ers drafted Marcus Lattimore for a reason.
The 49ers are short on receivers, but they’re deeper than most teams at both tight end and running back due to the additions of McDonald and a healthy Hunter. The four-way battle between Seneca Wallace, Colt McCoy, Scott Tolzien and B.J. Daniels will be the primary focus on Sunday for most, but if any of those players become important contributors this season the 49ers probably won’t be a very good team. However, if McDonald and Hunter are integral parts of the offense the 49ers have a chance to put a lot of points on the board in 2013.