Calvin Johnson

49ers WR search: a forgotten option who’s already on the roster

Fellow Bay Area Sports Guy contributor Scott Warfe and I took to arguing about Alex Smith and Aaron Rodgers yesterday in light of his recent fantasy redraft. It’s not a new argument — actually it’s a common Gary Radnich meme that Warfe and I decided to revisit — don’t ask me why.

After a good half hour of entertaining what could’ve been, the subject changed to the newest meme amongst 49ers fans and scribes: the 49ers’ search for a wide receiver. Warfe mentioned the possibility that the 49ers might take Coby Fleener with the 30th overall pick. Fleener’s an intriguing option, but with two extremely capable tight ends already on the roster the move seems a little superfluous. How many half-blocker/half-receivers does one team need, regardless of how much their head coach favors the position? Then it hit me.

What if that wide receiver was on the roster, but not technically a wide receiver?

Delanie Walker.

Walker playing wideout?

You bet — it wouldn’t be the first time either. The 49ers converted Walker to tight end from his original position, wide receiver, after they drafted him out of Central Missouri in the 6th round of the 2006 draft. Walker was widely considered to be the best small school wideout option that year, and his 2,578 all-purpose yards over two seasons (he was also a kick returner at CMS) rank him 9th in school history. That included 113 receptions for 1,347 yards as a receiver.

Walker’s played as a tight end for the entirety of his 5-year NFL career, though he’s like a Swiss Army knife who the 49ers were prepared to move to receiver in October after Joshua Morgan went on injured reserve. The 49ers have lined him up pretty much everywhere other than at center or under it, but it’s not his lead-blocking or fly sweep abilities that I’m interested in – it’s what he can do in the slot and out wide.

His 4.49 40-yard dash (2006 combine) certainly isn’t something to be sneezed at, and in his career with the 49ers Walker has shown some soft hands. At 6-feet tall, he certainly isn’t Calvin Johnson, but his stocky 240 lb frame could pose a problem for smaller cornerbacks forced to cover him. Not to mention what an asset he’d be blocking on sweeps and tosses, what with all the experience he’s had in that area over the past several years.

So why bother?

This would effectively make room for Harbaugh to draft Coby Fleener. Fleener would be an unbelievable weapon for San Francisco — he’s at least as tall as Megatron and was one of Andrew Luck’s most dangerous targets. We don’t know exactly how fast Fleener is because he didn’t run at the combine. His 40 time’s been listed in the 4.7 range (plenty fast enough for a tight end of his size), and having two tight ends like Vernon Davis and Coby Fleener anchoring either end of the offensive line opens up a world of opportunities. Just ask Tom Brady.

These moves wouldn’t preclude any chances of picking up a wide receiver in free agency; in fact it would make doing so an even bigger priority. They’ll want more than just Crabtree and Walker at wide receiver. Nevertheless, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Harbaugh employ this is the kind of creativity. It would allow the 49ers to grab and immediately utilize a monster tight end out of the draft, while at the same time giving Alex Smith a familiar face to target – just at a different position.

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