At one point in 2011 the 49ers were so thin at the wide receiver position that Brett Swain had the ball thrown in his direction a few times. This is when you know you've hit rock bottom. I say this because Swain looked like he tried to punch one of those passes after having just given up on the route then re-accelerating.
Needless to say, Swain didn't do anything, at all, with his opportunity, despite the 49ers needing someone to fill the role. Practice squadder Joe Hastings even saw some action late in the season as well. Personally I had high hopes for Hastings because of his work ethic and reputation among the other players...but he wasn't able to produce much either.
So this off-season all we've heard is how much the team has upgraded the position of wide receiver. Rather than turn to special teamers and practice-squad players, they signed a guy who used to be great, one who didn't play a lot on his former team, albeit a Super Bowl Champion team...and they drafted someone most people had in the second or third round...with the 30th overall pick.
Even on paper it doesn't sound like much of an upgrade...but it IS depth we're talking about.
If I'm being a positive thinker, which I often am, I could say that if Randy Moss is even close to who he used-to-be it will be a great signing. That Mario Manningham just never got enough of an opportunity in New York. And that A.J. Jenkins just needs time to go with his talent.
So now on paper it looks like a better situation than letting Brett Swain in the offensive huddle...but really, what doesn't?
Bottom line is that we don't know how the Moss scenario will play out. We know he looks good in shorts and has said and done all of the right things thus-far. We don't know what it's going to be like around week six when Jim Harbaugh is calling 60% running plays and expecting Moss to block to his standards. We don't know what it will be like when Alex Smith airmails Moss a few times in the same game. Or when the team cafeteria serves something Moss doesn't feel is fit-to-eat. We just don't know.
Same with Manningham. He made a great catch in the Super Bowl but there had to be reasons he didn't see the field nearly as much as Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. Maybe he's poised for a breakout...maybe not. All we know if that he's better than Brett Swain (sorry Brett, but this is low-hanging fruit and I was up late last night).
A.J. Jenkins probably won't see much of the field unless he suddenly leapfrogs some guys on the depth-chart who are currently out-showing him (see: everyone not named "Swain"). I expect he'll come along in time, yes...but it's still a mystery as to what we'll get from him.
Bottom line is that the only thing the 49ers have upgraded is the potential of the WR corps. But potential must be realized.