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Article Title: Our most pressing need
Article Date: April 2nd 2004
By Sydney

With a multitude of immediate needs the San Francisco 49ers with all of its mental and philosophical abilities are now hunkered down in extensive meetings and analysis with scout personnel, specialty position evaluators and assistant coaches to determine the mindset and the direction this team will head in.

It is a long process that starts almost immediately with the start of regular season and the start of college football as scout personnel are dispatched to different areas of the country on a rotating basis to get information and analysis on the latest and rising stars.

General Manager Terry Donahue will be calling the shots in this draft as he did the last couple of drafts but will do so with more insight from head coach Dennis Erickson and his newly assembled staff. Many of the coaching staff is fresh right out of college as is Dennis in determining what readily available talent is out there.

Bill Walsh soon to be an ex-49er consultant will hardly even be in the picture on this draft as his contract runs out at the end of April. He has already assumed a silent partner approach and is allowing Terry Donahue full freedom to make this draft as he has others his masterpiece.

I am sad that Bill Walsh will not spin some of his intellect in this draft right before he leaves as a 49er employee but I can also understand that there is an end to every great beginning and Bill Walsh’s has come to its final curtain unfortunately.

When you sit back and look at what the San Francisco 49ers needs are for the 2004 season, the first words that come to my mind is almost every position. We need immediate starters and we very much need some quality depth that is lacking in a multitude of positions.

Read in to it as you may but the facts are that the 49ers are in a very vulnerable state in terms of depth and it will be critical for some of our people to step up already in the organization and it will be just as critical for us to pick the right personnel that will require only a minimum of immediate training.

Every San Francisco 49er fan has a feeling for what is our most critical need, but so far the greatest need that has been emphasized and talked about the most among us fans has been the wide receiver position. This position has been decimated in that it has no real veteran presence with the exodus of veteran Pro Bowler Terrell Owens who now through a long series of arbitrations is with the Philadelphia Eagles. And the other indicator is that second-tier wide receiver Tai Streets is now reunited with former 49er-head coach Steve Mariucci in Detroit.

This has left us with a third-tier and a fourth-tier wide receiver in Cedrick Wilson with three-years experience out of Tennessee and newly drafted Brandon Lloyd out of Illinois as our new starters. Joining them is Notre Dame’s Arnaz Battle also newly drafted last season and some new and old familiar faces.

In the wide receiver department we have just recently signed Brian Poli-Dixon a very tall and promising athlete out of UCLA. He was signed to a one-year contract after a very impressive workout at the 49er training facility back in late March. He was the second wide receiver to visit the facility with the first being veteran Donald Hayes who is seemingly in my opinion on the downside of his career and inconsistent.

Poli-Dixon is an impressive athlete that earned All-Pac 10 honors following his sophomore and senior seasons at UCLA. He then left the Bruins ranked fifth on the all-time school list with 139 receptions for 2,127-yards and 20 touchdowns.

In 2002 he went on to attend training camp with the San Diego Chargers as a rookie free agent, but was unfortunately hampered by a hamstring injury. He fell out of the league last season and spent the entire year working with a personal trainer. He now seems poised to make his mark in the NFL, and hopefully will serve as a reliable presence and as a target for quarterback Tim Rattay.

Others include Adam Herzing out of Cal-Poly, Bosley Allen out of Sam Houston, Kahlil Hill out of Iowa and then you have promising types in James Jordan with two years experience out of Louisiana and Arland Bruce III out of Minnesota. Both of these athletes proved promising in training camp and pre-season last year and could breakout, as it is hopeful into something special.

In fact Arland Bruce III substituted as a kick return specialist when Jimmy Williams went down and rotated with Cedrick Wilson and running back Jamal Robertson for the position. James Jordan is a young and promising athlete with great height in 6-2 and weight at 225-pounds that can get physical with cornerbacks in press coverage and man-to-man coverage. Training camp and pre-season evaluations will be critical as it will be to the others mentioned before to make the roster again.

It is expected that the San Francisco 49ers will pick a wide receiver with their first round pick at No.#16 overall in the 2004 NFL draft. I even expect them to pick a second wide receiver somewhere in this draft in the later rounds even as early as fourth and fifth rounds. This is our most pressing need right now coupled with defensive end and even a cornerback. Some will argue other positions such as the offensive line, defensive tackle and even a punter.

But in all fairness we need depth at almost every position some a little more than others in many an opinion. I must say that I am fully behind us selecting the best possible wide receiver we can in this draft with the first round pick at No.# 16 overall. Brandon Lloyd had a great rookie season and he’s being looked upon as the No.# 1 wide receiver in our formation this season.

He has huge shoes to fill in the form of a very physical and emotional Terrell Owens. He has been criticized for his inability to separate from elite cornerbacks and safeties. He will have to prove this image completely wrong in order to hang on to the coveted No. # 1 position at wide receiver.

Cedrick Wilson also has made impressive strides as a reliable target and as another option in the 49er offense, but there are still rumors to the effect that he is still very undersized for this position over the long haul at 5-10 and weighing just 179-pounds.

The San Francisco 49ers would love to see both of these players breakout this coming season and even more inspiring would be for them to breakout in training camp and pre-season where they would rest assured any doubts that would still be in the forefront of our minds. I would expect both of them to really make a concerted effort towards that end and I hope we can see both share the receptions evenly over the course of the entire season.

Drafting a wide receiver in this draft has to be one of the most urgent priorities though as the 49ers did in fact lose some immense quality and veteran type receivers in Terrell Owens and Tai Streets. Who will they look at? And what will they be looking for in order to make the right evaluation? I will try as others in taking a look at some very interesting possibilities, in a pool of wide receivers that may be the best in a decade out of the college ranks.

This class of wide receivers is one of the best the country has ever seen out of college and teams with immediate concerns at this position such as the San Francisco 49ers will reap the rewards of this. Other teams that will choose probably from this pool with their first overall pick are teams such as: Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

At the top of the class in a deep class of a very talented pool are Mike Williams out of USC, Roy Williams out of Texas and Larry Fitzgerald out of Pittsburgh. Other sure first round prospects: include Reggie Williams out of Washington, Michael Clayton out of LSU, Lee Evans out of Wisconsin and even Michael Jenkins out of Ohio State.

Early second round prospects include Rashaun Woods out of Oklahoma State, Devery Henderson out of LSU, Bernard Berrian out of Fresno State and even Ernest Wilford out of Virgina Tech.

Third round prospects include Derrick Hamilton out of Clemson, Devard Darling out of Washington State, Keary Colbert out of USC, James Newson out of Oregon State and Johnnie Morant out of Syracuse.

Fourth round prospects: include Darius Watts out of Marshall, Jerricho Cotchery out of North Carolina State, B.J. Johnson out of Texas, Justin Jenkins out of Mississippi State and P.K. Sam out of Florida State.

Reaching into the fifth round we have prospects: like Maurice Brown out of Iowa, Carlos Francis out of Texas Tech, Triandos Luke out of Alabama, Clarence Moore out of Northern Arizona and Jamaar Taylor out of Texas A&M.

Beyond the fifth round you still have a talent pool but not immediate starters but depth contributors that will slowly develop into something special with training and play time experience such as: Drew Carter out of Ohio State, Huey Whittaker out of South Florida, Samie Parker out of Oregon, Derek McCoy out of Colorado, Jeris McIntyre out of Auburn and Chris Collins out of Mississippi.

No.#1 USC’s Mike Williams

Mike Williams is probably the best wide receiver in the 2004 NFL draft today although some will argue for Larry Fitzgerald, which is open to debate. Mike Williams stands 6-5 and weighs 220-pounds and ran a 4.50 in the 40-yard dash for overall time.

Hands: He has long arms and big, strong hands. He has great overall ball skills and shows rare hand-eye coordination. He often catches the ball away from his body not allowing it to come into contact with his pads. Here is a receiver that will hang on to the ball and not drop it. Something we all grew frustrated with in Terrell Owens and on many occasions was a detriment to the game.

He also has the elite ability to catch the ball over his shoulder in the vertical passing game, a favorite of head coach Dennis Erickson’s philosophy. He will adjust to a poorly thrown ball and he will make the tough catch in traffic.

Patterns: He has the ability to accelerate off the line and does an excellent job of getting separation, which is one of the main battles Tai Streets had. He can get in and out of breaks without having to gear himself down and shows smooth hips and tremendous body control. He shows a great intellect for technique and overall route running and is at his best in the vertical passing game.

He is a long strider who shows exceptional initial quickness and builds up speed as he goes. He has excellent reach, long arms, leaping ability and hand-eye coordination to come down with the jump ball consistently.

Run after the catch: He is more of a strength in the vertical passing game but is still very difficult to defend. He has the ability to pluck the ball while on the run and is shifty and will make the first defender miss him most of the time. Defensive backs struggle to bring this man down without assistance, which is a staple of none other than Terrell Owens.

Release: He is too big, fast and strong to get pressed very often on a consistent basis. He can go top speed rather quickly and has quick feet and is very elusive. He even shows swim and rip moves when he is fighting the press. He has an enormous wingspan and a very strong upper body that keep defenders at bay.

Blocking: Here is his only weakness, as he needs to be more consistent in this area. He doesn’t always pay attention to giving a block downfield but almost always finishes his assignments. He can dominate defensive backs one-on-one when he wants to. He has a powerful punch and gets separation with his long arms and strong hands.

Bottom line: Williams, 20, is one of the best in the business folks. In two college seasons he had 176 catches for 2,570-yards and 30 touchdowns. He is the nations most explosive and dynamic player and is probably more mature than he gets credit for. He may not have elite speed but he is faster than Larry Fitzgerald and is more of a vertical threat because of his size and his speed.

He probably will be gone within the first five to eight picks in the 2004 NFL draft, but the 49ers could trade up to get him. He has been compared to Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Randy Moss.

No.#2 Pittsburgh’s Larry Fitzgerald

Larry is right there in the mix of being picked first overall in this wide receiver class. He is an elite under classmen like his competition in Mike Williams. He stands 6-3 and weighs 218-pounds and has run the 40-yard dash in 4.55 for overall time. He will be one of the most sought after wide receivers in this draft and will be able to contribute almost immediately.

Hands: He also displays exceptional hand-eye coordination and almost never drops a pass, even when making spectacular catches, which he often has made. This is again an upgrade to Terrell Owens if in fact he can manage this inside the NFL. He has a unique ability to adjust to poorly thrown passes over his shoulder. He is outstanding on jump balls and has long arms, and big strong hands.

He can catch passes while on the run and in transition without losing any top line speed. He also has the strength to catch balls while running in traffic as well. He has been compared to Terrell Owens in this aspect and the above.

Patterns: He is an impressive route runner. Knows how to create separation and to get open. He displays good initial quickness off the line and is smooth and fluid for a tall receiver. He also knows how to set up man-to-man defenders and rarely tips off his route. He has the ability to bend his knees and drops his weight to make hard cuts without at all slowing down. He also knows how to read zone coverage and to get open.

Run after the catch: He is a big strong runner and can get up field rather quickly. He is mostly a straight-line runner that makes one cut seeing daylight and makes yards after the catch. He shows good vision and has a second gear when it comes to losing a defensive back. Does not have explosive speed but has great vision to find creases.

Release: He shows great initial quickness for his size but doesn’t have elite speed. He is difficult to jam because of his size, intelligence and moves. But top of the line cornerbacks might catch him due to his lack of explosive speed. Most of the NFL’s cornerbacks though won’t get that far because they’ll have trouble jamming him at the line of scrimmage.

Blocking: This is a big strength of his as he has terrific size and gets down field fast and executes his assignments. He has long, strong arms and is able to sustain blocks because of this.

Bottom line: Although Fitzgerald lacks elite speed for a wide receiver he is the perfect NFL receiver. He is a big target on short to intermediate routes and is still a down field threat because of his initial quickness, long stride, and deceptive acceleration. He also due to his size can out jump most NFL cornerbacks. He is a definite first round prospect that will go somewhere in the early to middle of then first round. The San Francisco 49ers would be foolish to allow this one to pass.

No.#3 Texas’s Roy Williams

Here is yet another high first round draft prospect that the San Francisco 49ers will look at very closely. I believe the 49ers will draft the best possible wide receiver as the 16th pick drawers nearer. Roy Williams stands 6-2 and weighs 208-pounds and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.45 in overall time.

Hands: They are big and soft and he does make spectacular catches with them. He displays great leaping ability and can catch passes over his shoulder and outside of his frame. He is a big-time playmaker on jump balls, but has shown some inconsistency in focusing. He has been seen running with the ball before securing it.

Patterns: He has deceptive speed and is able to get down field against man-to-man coverage. Has good body control and balance. He can plant and drive without slowing down too much and even before breaking.

He does need to show more consistency and to pay attention to details more. He does most of his scoring on down field routes and quick-hitting routes. He must get better and more elusive on intermediate routes.

Run after the catch: He shows great speed for his size and is faster then his 40-yard dash might indicate. He is quick, and has a second gear after the catch, which is necessary in the NFL. He makes subtle cuts to get an angle on a defensive back. He lacks great elusiveness but often makes the first defender miss.

Release: He is very difficult to jam and he shows great initial quickness. He has great size, speed and athleticism. Blocking: He has good size and strength. He is very tough and competitive and always gives above-average effort.

Bottom line: Roy has hit the weight room and has built enough endurance that he avoided repetitive hamstring injuries for the first time. He is a complete wide receiver with great size, speed and hands, and he has awesome run after the catch skills as well. This could be the wide receiver for San Francisco should he fall into the middle of the first round. He has been compared to Buffalo Bills Eric Moulds.

Of course others in the first round could be valued more to the 49ers than these three, especially if they are all taken. Reggie Williams out of Washington is another No. 1 type receiver that has the size and speed that will stretch defenses and make them honest. He has excellent body control and reaches top speed faster than most big receivers. He is another one to look out for and a great fit for the 49ers. He has been compared to David Boston of the San Diego Chargers.

Michael Clayton out of LSU is another intriguing possibility and is probably the most natural of all the first round picks. He does lack some physical skills in dominating his opponent but he always gives a great effort. He is the best blocker in this class of wide receivers but is he 49er material? He has been compared to Ed McCaffrey of the Denver Broncos.

Other possibilities include Lee Evans of Wisconsin and Michael Jenkins of Ohio State with in relation to size is Jenkins but in speed Evans. It is San Francisco’s most pressing need and I hope they will address it in the first round of this draft and even later on in the later rounds. I will continue to cover San Francisco’s draft needs right on up till the most exciting part of the off-season in the NFL. Never have I been more confident than now in finding a viable replacement for Terrell Owens with the talent available in this class.