St. Louis vs San Francisco: A 49ers Player to Watch Many May Have Overlooked

Troy Taormina-US PRESSWIRE

There's been a changing of the guard for the San Francisco 49ers at quarterback. Colin Kaepernick has replaced Alex Smith, but that may not be the only shift we'll see for the 49ers. One thing I've learned through my many years of watching the NFL is that a quarterback has his preferences when it comes to who gets pass catching opportunities. While Kaepernick played back up to Smith, I think he found his guy. But will Harbaugh take advantage of it?

Enter free agent acquisition Mario Manningham. He's been a quiet and unremarkable performer for the NFC West leading 49ers this season. Signed in the off season after gaining fame in the Super Bowl for a great sideline catch, Manningham hasn't been the offensive threat the team had hoped. His numbers this season: 36 catches, 412 yards and one touchdown. Those aren't great numbers for a big payday free agent wide receiver. That could change on Sunday.

Kaepernick - like all NFL quarterbacks - needs his security blanket receivers. Manningham and Kaepernick have worked together on the second team offensive in practices. While both stood on the sidelines watching others play, they seldom had opportunities to show there talents. Michael Crabtree hold the #1 wide out position, and with Kyle Williams and Randy Moss - let alone a 2012 1st round draft pick (A.J. Jenkins) waiting in the wings - the opportunities for Mario have been few and far between.

During the last Rams-49ers game - when Smith went down with a concussion - Kaepernick took the field. What I noticed though is who he spoke to on the sidelines after every series - Mario Manningham. He was targeted 3 times, catching one for 20 yards. The following week against Chicago, Manningham caught two passes for 45 yards, then had five catches against New Orleans for 69 yards. This connection between receiver and quarterback is growing, so don't be surprised - with Kyle Williams on IR - if Manningham's numbers start to explode. This Sunday, he'll benefit from enhanced coverage of Crabtree and Randy Moss - who still commands the respect of every defensive secondary. #2 wide receivers have had their day this year, and I think the Colin to Mario hook up could be next in line.

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