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Sunday, March 18, 2012
Manningham's value with Niners hazy

By Christopher Harris
ESPN.com

About a week ago, I wrote a stinging review of Randy Moss signing with the San Francisco 49ers. Wrapping it up, I offered the following:

"If the 49ers view Moss as their only solution for what ails them out wide, I think they're kidding themselves. If they wind up adding another, younger, more versatile receiver (you know, one who actually runs crossing patterns) to play alongside Moss and Michael Crabtree, that makes more sense to me. But either way, I don't see a return to big-time fantasy glory for Randy Moss."

Mario Manningham
Mario Manningham made this big catch in the Super Bowl, but he was a fantasy disappointment in 2011.

That bit of insight looks rather prescient now that the Niners have, in fact, added another, more versatile wideout: Mario Manningham. Whereas latter-day Moss is a one-trick pony who runs down the field with his arm up, and Crabtree is a physical-but-somewhat-speed-challenged potential playmaker, Manningham is a little bit of both. He's got 4.5-ish speed, which isn't Moss-like but gets the job done. He runs the deep cross and the slant quite well. And while he's not a "small" receiver (he's 5-foot-11 and 183 pounds), he doesn't bring Crabtree's thunder (Crabtree goes 6-2 and 215 pounds).

Of course, his Super Bowl heroics notwithstanding, Manningham's career with the New York Giants was punctuated with cases where his feet got him to the perfect spot at the perfect time, but his hands let him down. He's never eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving or 60 catches in a season. In addition, Manningham is coming off a year in which he was limited by knee problems that caused him to miss four games, and as yet it's unclear whether he had surgery to repair the damage. He's not the kind of player you build an offense around; he's a complementary receiver who doesn't fare well against safety help. I fully expect his production to outstrip Moss', and he'll probably make some big plays. But only three of his 13 TDs the past two years have come from inside an opponent's 10-yard line; with Crabtree and Vernon Davis around, don't expect that to change.

But the largest question is, of course, the quarterback. As of this writing, the 49ers were frantically pursuing Peyton Manning, while letting last year's incumbent, Alex Smith, dangle in the breeze making free-agent visits of his own. For the moment, I'm assuming Smith stays by the Bay, which almost by definition means the San Francisco offense will stay conservative. Smith didn't throw for 300 yards once all last season, and had fewer than 200 yards passing in nine of 16 starts. I just don't believe the Niners view him as a player whose hands they want their offense in, even with better weapons at his disposal. If Manning comes to San Francisco, obviously all bets are off; Crabtree, Manningham and Moss would all be worth investing in. But we'll cross that Golden Gate Bridge when we come to it. With Smith still the presumptive starter, I didn't have Crabtree or Moss in my top 100 overall players, and adding Manningham probably only spreads the targets further. I'd draft Crabtree before Manningham and Manningham before Moss, but until they're Peyton's crew, they don't make enticing fantasy starters.