NFL Draft: Niners could gamble on a slot

Ted Ginn ended the season with 10 catches. Dominique Zeigler finished with a torn ACL. And Kyle Williams wrapped up his first year in the NFL with more injuries than receptions.

Put them all together and you get 20 catches, three fewer than Legedu Naanee.

A potential No. 3 wide receiver isn’t the most pressing of the Niners’ draft needs, but it’s likely somewhere on the list. And with a pair of big-bodied wideouts in Michael Crabtree and Josh Morgan, it wouldn’t be a surprise if San Francisco targets a slot receiver.

With that in mind, below are a few Rob-Rang-approved slot possibilities who could be lurking in the middle rounds.

By the way, the where-these-guys-will-be-drafted projection is obviously subjective. For this blog, I’m using this cool draft value chart from Pro Football Weekly’s draft analyst Nolan Nawrocki – it’s the perfect link for the draft geek in your family:

Greg Salas, Hawaii
6-2, 210
Where drafted: Middle of third round
Salas’ totals from his last two seasons in Hawaii’s run-and-shoot offense: 215 catches, 3,479 yards and 22 TDs. Good. Ness. Does he come complete with a joystick? Next question: Are those Nintendo numbers merely a product of a pass-happy system? The NFL’s best and brightest appeared to feel that way about former Hawaii wideout Davone Bess, who averaged 102 catches in his final two seasons in Honolulu. Bess, who went undrafted, had 79 catches last year with the Dolphins. The same free-agent fate won’t befall the sticky handed Salas (highlights here), who figures to be selected higher than the Niners want to draft a wide receiver. Salas’ agent, Kenny Zuckerman, said wide receiver coaches from the Ravens, Cardinals and Bengals attended Hawaii’s pro day at the Home Depot Center in Carson last week. Salas will have at least six private workouts prior to the draft, but the Niners aren’t on the list.

 

Ronald Johnson, USC
6-0, 185
Where drafted: Late fourth round
USC has had plenty of great receivers. However, many of them – Dwayne Jarrett, Keary Colbert, R. Jay Soward – have been high-round busts in the pros. Unlike that trio, Johnson (highlights here) won’t be taken in the first two rounds, but Rang believes he could have good mid-round value. Johnson is known as a smart route runner and excellent punt returner. And Johnnie Morton and Keyshawn Johnson had pretty good NFL careers.
ADD: As astute reader, Patrick Tulini, noted … Johnson’s wide receivers coach during each of his four seasons at USC was John Morton, who was hired as the Niners receivers coach in January.

Jeremy Kerley, TCU
5-10, 192
Where drafted: Early fifth round
Want Andy Dalton in the second round? His favorite target figures to be available several rounds later. Rangs terms Kerley one of the draft’s prototypical slot receivers – a dynamic jitterbug who can accelerate after the catch. Kerley can also return kicks – just check out the moves at the end of this 69-yard punt return against Colorado State in 2009. His skills made Kerley one of three finalists for the inaugural Paul Hornung Award, given to college football’s most versatile player. So why will he still be around in the latter stages of the draft? He never did put up huge numbers in Fort Worth (56 catches, 575 yards in ’10) and his route-running, heavy on bubble screens in college, will need to be refined.

Dwayne Harris, East Carolina
6-0, 205
Where drafted: Middle of fifth round
If you like workout warriors, you can stop reading here. Rang says Harris is sliding down draft boards due to so-so workout numbers. But Harris produced on Saturdays, collecting 184 catches for 2,101 yards with 17 TDs in his final two seasons at ECU. Various scouting reports cite his giddy-up after-the-catch ability and his fearlessness. Sure enough – check out his first two catches here. Harris doesn’t appear to mind contact.

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