Newly acquired local boy WR (born in SF, raised in Fairfield, and an alum of Chabot College) Stevie Johnson recently said that the Niners at this point have “four #1 recievers.” Including himself in the VD, Crabs, and Anquan Boldin mix. Funny thing is, he’s kinda right. They’ve all put up 1,000 yard seasons over the years (well, VD has reached 900+ a couple times), and all have had solid seasons.
The issue here is, stop me if you’ve heard this before, is whoever they designate as #3, will that guy get on the field more than 25% of the time? Because that is the fate of most 49er 3rd string WRs. Ted Ginn recently held that distinction, and was limited to basically a mop-up role. Last year, everybody was hurt, and or Kyle Williams, so the Niners got nothing out of the 3rd string guy.
Using 2012 as the last season where we had a fairly healthy WR corps, Randy Moss was the 3. 28 catches, 435 yards, 3 TDs. Not horrible by any stretch, but does anyone here feel he was used as much as he should have been? In 2011 our 3 (KW) caught 20 balls. Last year? Well, we had 3s that were pretty much number twos. Turds. Guys who could not get open. Just flipping through Pro-football-reference.com shows that most 3s get something like 50, 600 yards. And I’m not hitting teams like Atl or NE where their 3s get around 60, 750.
Which brings us to the present. The sounds coming out of 4949 Centennial Blvd are that Harbaugh understands he needs to open the sardine can. Teams are keying on the 1-2 WR formations as our run set and successfully stopping our run game, and thus setting up 3rd and long. Beyond the fact that this has been a recurring problem since the Nolan/Hostler days, let me say, meh. We’ve all heard this before. From Norv Turner saying “Alex really gets it this year” to Singletary saying “Alex is doing really well throwing deep balls” to now Harbaugh saying “We need to integrate more 3 WR sets on 1st and 2nd down.” After the praise, the talk of opening things up and the like, we get Gore, Gore Gore.
The run game works against teams like Tennessee, Jacksonville, and the Rams (not any more), but this plan stalled out against Seattle, Indy, and NO. Teams that stuff our run game. What happens is the 49ers then face a lot of 3rd and long plays. Plays where the defense can blitz and force turnovers, sacks, and fumbles. Which is why the Niners are always near the top of the list for 3-and-out drives.
So, to me this merely sounds like the chatter they always spout when talking about the upcoming season, and how different things will be. Seeing as their first priority for an offensive player in the draft this year was a running back, I don’t think things will change any time soon. I fear that Stevie Wonder will be relegated to 15-20 plays a game, and 3-4 catches per if he’s lucky. Welcome back, Stevie. Hope you get on the field more than I think you will.