49ers' additions at receiver target Seahawks
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — At one point last season, the San Francisco 49ers' receiving corps could have been titled "Anquan Boldin and the Nobodies."
With Michael Crabtree and Quinton Patton out because of injuries, Boldin was the only wide receiver quarterback Colin Kaepernick trusted, and for 16 weeks he was the only wide receiver on the team with a touchdown catch. Everyone else who went in and out of the lineup — from Kyle Williams to Jon Baldwin to Mario Manningham — was an afterthought.
When the draft ended Saturday, the 49ers clearly had bulked up their numbers and were better equipped to handle an injury like the one Crabtree suffered a year ago. Hey, Trent Baalke, is this the best group you've had in San Francisco?
"We think it's deep. We think it's talented," the 49ers' general manager said following an NFL-high 12-man draft. "And there are guys that people aren't talking about."
It's also clear Baalke and the 49ers had the rival Seattle Seahawks in mind when they were making their additions.
Stevie Johnson, acquired in a trade from the Buffalo Bills on Friday, is unique among 49ers receivers in that he once had a big game against cornerback scourge Richard Sherman and the Seahawks' defense. He had eight catches for 115 yards and a touchdown, mostly while matched against Sherman, in a 2012 game.
Brandon Lloyd, back with the 49ers, hasn't had any truly prolific outings against Sherman and Seattle. Still, he's been solid. His last three contests against them: five catches for 67 yards, five catches for 82 yards and six catches for 80 yards.
Lloyd once led the league with 1,448 receiving yards. Johnson has had more than 1,000 receiving yards in three of the last four years. And they're slated to compete for the role of third receiver on the 49ers. It shows how deep the team has become.
The final addition came Saturday when the 49ers took South Carolina's Bruce Ellington in the fourth round.
All NFL talent evaluators lament that there's so little press coverage in the college ranks that it makes it nearly impossible to tell how a receiver will fare against a physical and hands-y team like the Seahawks.
Ellington, however, gave the 49ers some strong clues. He not only played football in the ultra-competitive Southeastern Conference, he played basketball there. Ellington was a point guard for the Gamecocks, and Baalke said he was impressed that even in the spring, when basketball season was winding down and spring football practices were cranking up, Ellington didn't miss either.
Defeating press coverage involves a combination of strength, quickness and instincts, and the 49ers felt he showed those traits on the hardwood.
"You don't play two sports (including) major-college football like he did without having something special about you, the mental toughness, the physical traits to do those things," Baalke said. "He's a skilled athlete and he's a competitive athlete. And those are good qualities to have."
While the rest of the league has gone with finesse, the 49ers have stuck with power. This not only allows them to take advantage of defenses unaccustomed to a strong rushing game, it has a benefit in the draft. Twelve years ago, a runner with speed and power like Carlos Hyde would have been taken in the first round. This year, the first running back off the board lasted until the 54th pick, midway through the second round, and the 49ers didn't take Hyde until pick No. 57.
Going against the grain, it seems, has its perks.
Baalke insisted Hyde's acquisition had nothing to do with any hiccups in Marcus Lattimore's recovery from his 2012 knee injury. Still, it signals the 49ers are not counting on Lattimore to be the heir to Frank Gore's workhorse role. Everyone is hoping for a fairytale ending for the well-liked Lattimore. The reality is he tore three ligaments in the joint, a devastating and rare injury in the NFL, and at least some doubt remains he can overcome it.
Baalke didn't think much of the cornerback class this year and decided to address the position - perhaps the team's biggest need - with numbers. The 49ers drafted three cornerbacks Saturday. This after using a first-round pick on safety Jimmie Ward, who is expected to begin his career as the team's slot cornerback.
Among the 49ers' free-agent signings Saturday were Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov and Miami tight end Asante Cleveland (Christian Brothers High School).