August 18, 2009

No camp battle offers as much confusion, or as many names to know, as the on-going battle for receiver reps in San Francisco. Fantasy owners have every flavor to choose from, but no easy decision in front of them. Michael Crabtree owns a household name but has yet to record a single NFL yard (or step foot into camp); Josh Morgan is the shhhh pick fantasy owners crave this time of year, but like Crabtree his value is based more on potential and less on accomplishment; Brandon Jones has the most pro experience, but after four years in Tennessee he's yet to show he can produce viable fantasy numbers.

Last year's 49er passing squad proved to be one of the NFL's most efficient, ranking 18th in attempts, but 13th in both yards and touchdown passes. For a team operating below .500 in the standings those are encouraging numbers. Of course, what hasn't been encouraging is the revolving door the team has installed at quarterback. If the 49ers fail to find the right man to line up under center, all of the team's receivers will offer only limited value to fantasy owners.

If the stars do align, however, any one of the three men vying for time opposite Isaac Bruce is bound to be a star.

Why Morgan will win the job: Though he caught just 20 balls last season, Morgan grabbed the attention of team officials and its fanbase. In a Week 7 loss to the Giants, Morgan pulled in a 30-yard touchdown from J.T. O'Sullivan, and finished with five catches for 86 yards. Morgan finished the year with a pair of 50-yard efforts in Weeks 16 and 17, and was tabbed the No. 2 receiver opposite Bruce until the selection of Crabtree. But injuries and a holdout have kept Crabtree away from the offense, and Morgan has a better comfort level of the offense than Jones.

Why Jones will win it: Because experience counts, especially in an offense sure to have a sticky situation at quarterback. Jones is entering his fifth season in the league, whereas Crabtree is a rookie and Morgan is heading into year number two. Jones is also fresh off his best season to date (41 catches, 449 yards), and someone who seems a good fit to blossom in San Francisco's system. Perhaps the biggest reason Jones is a factor, though, is the $5.4 million the team guaranteed him in late February.

Why Crabtree will win it: Think 49er receivers and two names come to mind: Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens. If anyone from this list can join that elite crowd it's Crabtree, the exciting Texas Tech product who caught 41 touchdowns in 26 collegiate games. Crabtree possesses everything scouts want in a receiver -- size, speed, elusiveness -- and has all of the qualities fans expect go hand-in-hand with an All-Pro at the position (bravado, style). And let's not forget Crabtree is the team's first round pick, the guy able to put more butts in the bleachers than a beer-for-a-buck special. Not only can he play next to Bruce, but he might just be NFL-ready enough to bump the 36-year-old from his No. 1 job this season -- something the team would welcome. It's a foregone conclusion that Crabtree will be the guy in San Francisco, just when. Why wait?

Don't forget about:Jason Hill

Hill caught more passes than Morgan or Arnaz Battle last season, and in a Week 10 loss to the Cardinals recorded career highs with six catches for 82 yards. Hill wasn't given much of a chance in San Francisco until things fell apart midway through last season, but in the final eight weeks of 2008 few 49er weapons were as productive.

Who fantasy owners should pull for: Crabtree

It's a familiar story: Some guys can be good, some can be great, and a select few can be special. Crabtree showed in the Big 12 that he is already special, and few doubt that he can make a smooth transition to the pro game. Yeah, his agent threatened to have his client sit out the 2009 season and go back into the draft, and yes Crabtree may be a bit flat if/when he does arrive in camp. But those issues always appear with high-profile rookies, and things always seem to get back on track.

What fantasy owners need to ask themselves is this: Who can help my team? In most leagues, Morgan and Jones have enough potential to make a roster, while Crabtree has more than enough potential to make a difference.

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