As Mike Nolan attempts to define his receiving core one thing is for certain, it will have a very different feel to it than it had last season. Nolan will have the tough task of assembling an inexperienced squad capable enough to provide his quarterback with targets that can be taken seriously in the NFL.
Brandon Lloyd is the front runner for a starting position. Since coming to the 49ers Lloyd has grabbed attention with finger-tip, acrobatic catches that seemed almost un-worldly. The 49ers will want this type of play maker on the field, but Lloyd will have to prove that he can get open more consistently and really be a target for his quarterbacks.
Arnaz Battle, who played quarterback in college, is finally expected to get a real chance as a receiver this season. Battle is pencilled in to start alongside Lloyd. Battle is an explosive, athletic player. He was used on end around and trick style plays for most of his career. He is seen as a threat with the ball in his hands, and now he has the opportunity to become a real factor in the offense.
Both Lloyd and Battle will have a hard time holding off veteran Johnnie Morton. Morton was signed after the team lost Derrick Hamilton to injury. He is a solid and consistent receiver that adds some veteran presence to a very young squad. Right now, Morton figures in as the third receiver on the team, but there is potential for that to change if some of younger receivers ahead of him either falter, or those behind him really step up.
PJ Fleck, an undersized, undrafted free agent made strides last season. Nolan has noticed his intensity and strong will, and really likes that. Fleck’s determination will allow him to factor into the offense this year, perhaps even ahead of last year’s first round draft pick, Rashaun Woods.
Rashaun Woods has been injured for most of his short career with the 49ers. The team had high hopes for him picking him in the first round, but since then, injuries and something else have kept him off the field. For some reason Woods, who was a playmaker in college may have slipped to the number five receiving position on this team. The 49ers need this large investment to turn out for them. They will be relying heavily on receivers coach, and guru Jerry Sullivan to try and turn Woods around.
Rasheed Marshall and Marcus Maxwell are both projects at receiver. The 49ers would have to go very heavy at the position, or something uncanny would have to happen for them to really fill in. In all likelihood, the two receivers are practice squad candidates. Marshall, is very athletic and is a former quarterback. The 49ers hope he turns out along the lines of Arnaz Battle. Maxell is coming off a shoulder injury, is also athletic, and also a project at the position.