The 49ers concluded their May OTAs on Thursday and what have we learned? Well, for starters, we're…
"First of all, I am very thankful that [Director of Player Personnel] Trent [Baalke] was able to make this work out," coach Mike Singletary said about the trade. "(Ginn) is a bundle of potential and his upside is off the charts. This guy can fly."
For his part, Ginn is also excited about the move. "They're a great team," he said, "[with] a great coach. I know a couple of guys. I'm just excited to be a 49er. They have a great tradition and I'm happy to be there."
Let's start with the positives on Ginn. Obviously, the guy is a burner. The second he puts the 49ers uniform on, he officially becomes the fastest guy on the team. Receiver Michael Crabtree, last year's tenth overall pick, is incredibly talented, but he's not a speed demon. Neither are Josh Morgan, Brandon Jones, or Jason Hill. Ginn should not only give Smith a target for the big play, but his presence on the field should "clear out" the middle of the field for Crabtree and tight end Vernon Davis to work the underneath routes. Also, it's doubtful that any defensive coordinator would be foolish enough to put eight men in the box to slow down the 49ers running game if Ginn is one of the guys lined up outside.
Then there's Ginn's biggest strength – his skills in the return game. The biggest impact he had for the Dolphins last season came in a game at Giants Stadium against the New York Jets on Nov. 1. It was a game where he didn't catch a single pass. What he did contribute, however, was two kickoff return touchdowns in the third quarter, for 100 and 101 yards respectively, that enabled Miami to escape with a 30-25 road win. For the season Ginn finished fifth in the league with 1,296 return yards, 13th in return average at 24.9, and tied for second with those two touchdowns.
Even if he doesn't catch a single ball in 2010, Ginn could make a huge difference for the team, just based on field position.
There are, however, plenty of negatives with him as well.
For one thing, Ginn is not a very polished route runner, and far less accomplished in that regard than the player the Dolphins thought they were getting four drafts ago. He has gotten a reputation as someone who shies away from contact and who drops balls when defenders are bearing in on him. Despite his world-class speed, he had difficulty getting consistently open and struggled mightily versus the jam.
However, to be fair, he didn't get at many opportunities to make plays last season as Coach Tony Sporano and General Manager Bill Parcells grew disenchanted with him. After a promising sophomore campaign, where Ginn had 56 receptions for 790 yards, he regressed last year and wound up with just 38 grabs for 454 yards. A brutal game against the New Orleans Saints, where he dropped three balls (one of which turned into an interception) led to diminished playing time in the last two months of the season.
I wouldn't say it's a relief, but it's always good to have a new start," Ginn said. "The 49ers are going to give me a brand new start and leaving Miami, I don't hold any grudges and I don't have any bad feelings or anything, but my time was up there and I enjoyed it there, but now I've just got to move on."
More troubling than his on field play is the perception of Ginn in the locker room. Media sources suggest that he wasn't popular with teammates. Ex-Dolphins, such as cornerback Sam Madison, have openly questioned his toughness. Ginn has been portrayed as someone more interested in having a good time and enjoying Miami's famous nightlife than a player who was driven to improve and win at all cost. Too often, both as a receiver and a returner, the rap on him has been that he's looking for the sanctuary of the sidelines the second the ball is in his hands and that he's unwilling to lower his shoulder and absorb punishment.
I'm not sure how smart it is to want a guy who weighs 180 pounds to play like Terrell Owens, but once reputations are made in the NFL, especially negative ones, they're hard to shake. Ginn has the "soft" label on him and Singletary will simply not tolerate a player like that for long. It's a virtual certainty that point will be made to the former Ohio State Buckeye in training camp, if not sooner.
One point in Ginn's favor is that he's already expressed a willingness to return punts in San Francisco; something he didn't do very much of after his rookie season in Miami. In general, being a punt returner is a more dangerous line of work than being a kick returner, because of the likelihood of being popped the moment after one catches the ball. Ginn made it clear it wasn't he, but rather his coaches who took him out of that role with the Dolphins.
"That's one of the things I like to do," he said. "Special teams-wise as far as kickoffs and punts, that's me, I just think it's another way that I can get the ball in my hands and make plays for my team." What cannot be questioned is that Ginn fell out of favor with the Dolphins. Clearly, when a top ten overall pick fetches just a fifth rounder in the trade market, that tells you not only what his ex-employers thought of him, but what all the other teams do as well. Ginn has a lot to prove to a lot of skeptics. The 49ers have taken a shot on him, and it's up to the Cleveland native to show everyone, not just the folks in Miami, that the Niners knew something the rest of the league didn't.
" I'm glad that they [see] that kind of potential in me and I'm just going to come in and live up to their expectations," Ginn said.
As far as how Ginn's acquisition impacts the draft, the team is less likely now to pursue a returner such as Clemson RB C.J. Spiller or Cincinnati WR Mardy Gilyard with a high pick and will probably be less focused on skill position guys. The team will probably still add a receiver/returner, but maybe as a late round pick or undrafted free agent. Those who specialize as punt returners would probably have more value to the team at this point.