They were linked to several receivers during the first week of free agency, including Julian Edelman, Hakeem Nicks and Emmanuel Sanders. None of the pursuits materialized and if the 49ers do add a receiver in free agency, it likely would be for depth. The 49ers are expected to draft a speed receiver during the early rounds.
However, there are two in-house players the 49ers hope take the next step and are able to help the passing game: LaMichael James and Vance McDonald, each taken in the second round of the past two drafts.
The 49ers are particularly interested to see McDonald, who had an up-and-down rookie season, take the next step. He finished the season with eight catches and had just one in the final seven games, but he blocked well (he was known more as a receiver at Rice) as a rookie.
If McDonald can improve, it would take pressure off starter Vernon Davis and would give the team another field stretcher.
James hasn’t made much of an impact on offense in his first two NFL seasons. The 49ers didn’t run many screen plays last season, but James has the speed to be efficient on such plays. Last season, coach Jim Harbaugh, while answering a question on the subject, said perhaps the team would look into it.
As the team looks to open up the offense and have more explosive plays, perhaps McDonald and James will play a role.