The San Francisco 49ers are quite happy that they acquired Anquan Boldin from the Baltimore Ravens, which gave them a great one-two punch with their starting receivers. Unfortunately, they are now back to where they were before.
The 49ers got a target as quickly as they lost one, as Michael Crabtree went down with a torn Achilles tendon in OTAs. It's possible he will be back late in the season, but that still means that the 49ers have to decide on a completely new receiving depth chart for most of the year.
Anquan Boldin was a 1,000-yard receiver last year for the Ravens if you include the postseason, and he is by far the most experienced player on the roster. He was a no-brainer as the second option, but does that make him the No. 1 target by default?
In short, yes. No one else on the current 49ers roster had even 500 receiving yards last season. Colin Kaepernick needs a reliable target, and receivers do not get much more reliable than Boldin.
In fact, with Crabtree out and Boldin as the only target that Kaepernick knows he can go to in a tight spot, I see a bit of a revival for Boldin this year, notching around 1,000 yards in the regular season.
The question becomes who takes over as the second receiver.
The primary candidates for that job are Mario Manningham, Quinton Patton, Kyle Williams and A.J. Jenkins. The 49ers have a slew of others on the depth chart as well, such as Marlon Moore, but these players will likely not be a factor.
Manningham and Williams put up better numbers with Alex Smith at quarterback than with Kaepernick, and Patton and Jenkins don't yet have NFL experience.
It's very easy to dismiss A.J. Jenkins on the surface, after spending most of last season inactive despite having been a first-round selection. Of the four wideouts above, however, Jenkins is the one that has chemistry with Kaepernick.
More to the point, Jenkins has bulked up in the offseason, and with Crabtree's injury, he will have the inside track on the second starting job. The question is whether or not he can produce.
A 500-yard performance is reasonable to expect out of him, especially since he has the downfield speed to be a threat—at least that's what was seen while he was scouted for the draft. Anything less or losing the starting job will put him on the fast track to being a draft bust.
As for Patton, I love the guy personally, and still think he was a steal for the 49ers. He will be expected to be a major role player and may compete with Jenkins for the starting job. He's already shown the will to play in the NFL, so we just have to see it on the field.
I see Patton hitting around the 400- to 450-yard mark, keeping in line with Jenkins throughout the year. In short, that's a battle that I don't see being entirely resolved until the end of training camp, and maybe not even then.
While Jenkins and Patton should be okay under Kaepernick's leadership, Williams and Manningham are more concerning, as both are coming off ACL injuries.
Williams should be back by the time the season begins, but he's never been a frequently-targeted passer. He's someone who could be thrown to in a tight spot, though, and 200 yards is reasonable if 20 receptions or so is presumed.
Manningham is the more concerning one. He won't be ready until later on in the season, and his production dropped when the quarterbacks were switched. In his last three starts with Kaepernick, he had one reception.
He may have more name recognition than the others thanks to his experience with New York Giants, but I see him putting up far fewer yards than expected. He had 449 receiving yards last year as a starter, and this year he may only end up with 200.
In short, the 49ers will have Boldin and Jenkins as their starters, with Patton and Williams as the primary backups. Manningham and others will contribute occasionally, but they will be deep on the chart.
The total number may not seem like a lot, but Vernon Davis should bounce back and have a better year on the receiving end, so in reality, the 49ers will still have solid receiving numbers.
After Crabtree last year, no one besides Davis had 500 receiving yards, and even he just barely passed that. They can still get close to 3,500 receiving yards without him if Boldin is as good as he should be this year.
Of course, even if their numbers are somewhat comparable on paper, the fact is that Crabtree and Kaepernick worked perfectly together, and that is something that the quarterback will either have to find with another receiver fast or find another way to win in 2013.
If Jenkins, Patton and the others do fail to step up, then there's always the loaded running back group with Frank Gore and company, featuring Kaepernick himself. Nothing wrong with running the ball more while Crabtree is out.
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