San Francisco 49ers Must Consider Replacing Anquan Boldin This Offseason
That was fun, wasn't it?
London truly is an amazing city. The cobbled streets, fish and chips, Westminster and Harry Potter. A week of sightseeing and you may never want to go back to dental hygiene or drinking cold beer again.
Seeing Colin Kaepernick and Frank Gore pulled in the fourth quarter of a 32-point blowout brought back fond memories of the days when Steve Young and Jerry Rice only had to work half days during their Super Bowl-winning season of 1994.
The 49ers scored touchdowns on four of their first five possessions and basically put the game out of reach before the halftime show, which featured a compilation of Sherlock and Downton Abbey reruns. The fans were a little lethargic in the second half, but still cheered when Kaepernick dove into the end zone for his second touchdown of the night.
And yet, there's still cause for concern.
It's awesome how the Niners were able to score 42 points with their quarterback only throwing for 164 yards. That's the sixth time Kaepernick has failed to breach 200 passing yards this season; part of it can be attributed to Frank Gore's starring role in the offense and part of it can be a result of Kaepernick's inability to see all the receivers downfield.
Bay Area sports fans may be cringing their hands as they await the return of Crabtree and Manningham this season, but what about the plan going forward?
First, the Niners need to adopt a less strenuous training camp to cut down on all the injuries (flag football is a reasonably good alternative). Then they'll have to find another receiver to replace Anquan Boldin.
There's no question Boldin was a tremendous offseason pickup. The veteran is a terrific possession receiver capable of hauling in Kaepernick's fastballs and eating up yards after the catch. He's currently on pace for a 1,000-yard campaign and leads the team with 38 receptions.
The rub: his numbers are significantly inflated from his monster debut in the first week of the season.
Facing a Packers defense obsessed with stopping the read option, Boldin caught 12 passes for 208 yards. He hasn't had more than 90 yards in a game ever since and he's had three games of 30 yards or less. His best highlight after his first week came in his one-catch performance against the Seahawks when he flung the repellent Richard Sherman to the turf.
The Niners believed that Boldin's regression during his time with Baltimore was a result of having Joe Flacco throwing him the ball and hoped he would become a top-10 wideout again with the Niners. After getting initial results, they're left with a shell of the unstoppable receiver they had in Week 1.
With Kaepernick and Michael Crabtree expected to command hefty paydays, it's unlikely that the 49ers will be able to continue paying Boldin (who'll become a free agent in 2014) the $6 million he's making this season, and they also have to consider the pending free agencies of players like Mario Manningham and Tarell Brown.
Also, Boldin is 33. I think that means he'll be 34 next year. His prime years are behind him and he'll likely continue his decline during the 49ers' Super Bowl-contending seasons. With Vernon Davis inching his way toward 30, it would make more sense to get younger at the wide receiver position and find someone who can stretch defenses down the field.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke can go trick or treating at every door at every house and they still won't find a franchise wideout. So that leaves the NFL draft. With the best receivers projected to be selected somewhere in the middle of the pack, Baalke could do what he does best and parlay his picks to procure a top-round talent.
Currently, the best collegiate receiver, Clemson's Sammy Watkins, is hovering somewhere in the top 10. Close behind him are USC's Marqise Lee and Texas A&M's Mike Evans.
All three receivers bring different strengths to the table and could become immediate threats in offensive coordinator Greg Roman's four-pronged offense. Watkins has speed, strength and separation ability, so the Niners would have to give up the most in order to select him in the draft. It would make more sense to target Evans, who has familiarity in the spread offense catching passes from Johnny Manziel and can leap up in the air to snatch rockets just as easily as Crabtree.
While injuries have limited Lee this season, his speed and route running remain the best in the business and teams shouldn't pass on him because of a few trips to the orthodontist (though that $10 million insurance policy isn't that encouraging). He's like Larry Fitzgerald in the way that he can torch defenses for 50 yards either on a deep post or a five-yard slant route.
Drafting any of those receivers could give the 49ers the deadliest 1-2 tandem since Randy Moss and Chris Carter.
That was what Harbaugh thought he had before Crabtree tore his Achilles, and before secondaries started paying attention to Boldin.
I could also be wrong. Boldin might play much more effectively in the No. 2 slot when Crabtree returns in mid-November. With teams forced to focus on both Crabtree and Davis, Anquan could thrive in isolation coverage and become the implacable juggernaut 49er fans were so used to seeing during his time in Arizona.
Whatever happens, San Francisco will be a force to be reckoned with during the final eight games of the season. Not just because they'll have two of their best receivers back on the field, but because Kyle Williams might finally be off the team.
Williams' reputation as a screwup was on international display last week as he fumbled the ball to himself on the opening kickoff, muffed a punt that went out of play and ran out of bounds at the 3-yard line on the final kickoff of the second half.
He currently leads the league with 20 fair catches and owns the fourth-worst punt-return average (5.1 yards per return). As the team's No. 2 receiver, he trails fullback Bruce Miller in both yards and catches.
With the 49ers calling up several rookies on defense, this is what the receiver depth chart should look like in a few weeks: Crabtree, Boldin, Manningham, Patton, Baldwin.
I get misty-eyed just looking at it.
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