With eight days to go until free agency begins on March 11, the San Francisco 49ers took care of an important piece of business. On Monday, the team announced via Twitter that it had re-signed Pro Bowl wide receiver Anquan Boldin to a multiyear contract extension.
According to Ed Werder of ESPN, Boldin’s new deal spans two years. In total, he will make $9 million guaranteed and $12 million total. Based on his production (85 receptions, 1,179 yards and seven touchdowns) in 2013, and his instant connection with quarterback Colin Kaepernick, that’s a good buy for the 49ers.
However, re-signing Boldin won’t end the 49ers’ search for a wide receiver. As good as the 11th-year wideout is, he’s not going to be around forever. Odds are he will hang up his cleats at the completion of his freshly signed contract. He turns 34 in October, so it’s clear general manager Trent Baalke will look to find his successor sooner rather than later.
But where will the 49ers look to find Boldin’s eventual replacement? Will they look for a marquee free agent, or are they set on drafting a pass-catcher with one of their five top-100 picks? That’s the million-dollar question in the Bay Area.
Yet, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that San Francisco won’t make a splash in free agency at the wide receiver position. Per Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com, one should expect the 49ers to “add at least one wide receiver in the draft.”
Maiocco also noted that Quinton Patton will be in the mix for extended playing time in 2014. This is good news for 49ers fans. Despite missing 10 games last season, Patton put together a nice performance versus the Arizona Cardinals, Week 17. In 13 snaps, he tallied 34 yards receiving and 26 yards rushing.
No, Patton’s numbers aren’t earthshattering, but they do prove one thing: He can make big-time plays when the opportunity presents itself. The same thing can be said about Boldin and Michael Crabtree as well.
With three sure-fire wideouts set to make an impact and play extended snaps, it will be interesting to see what type of receiver San Francisco targets in the draft. Will it go after a speedy receiver who can stretch the field? Or will it go after a possession receiver who can move the chains?
Considering the 49ers already have two physical wideouts who lack speed, San Francisco needs speed more than it needs size. With that being said, Brandin Cooks of Oregon State is an intriguing prospect who could come in and make an immediate impact.
He wouldn’t have to play a ton of snaps, and he wouldn’t have to put up gaudy numbers right away. The only thing he would have to do is get over the top and command the attention of a safety at all times. Coincidentally enough, this is something he made a habit of during his three-year collegiate career.
For those of you who like player comparisons, Matt Miller of Bleacher Report believes Cooks’ game is similar to that of Tennessee Titans wide receiver Kendall Wright. Like Wright, the first-team All-Pac-12 member does his most damage when the ball is in his hands.
Amid his sophomore and junior seasons, he totaled 195 receptions, 2,881 yards receiving, 15.4 yards per catch and 23 touchdowns from scrimmage. Furthermore, his 16 receiving touchdowns in 2013 were the second-most receiving touchdowns in all of college football.
Nevertheless, Cooks has his fair share of faults as a prospect. He possesses a very small frame, lacks ideal bulk, is a below-average run-blocker and struggles to beat press coverage. His inability to block in the run game won’t be an issue in the NFL, yet his inability to beat press coverage will be.
Overall, he is the National Football Post’s fifth-best receiver in this year’s class, and it awarded him with a plus-6.7 grade. That is the same grade it gave USC wide receiver Marqise Lee and LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
The other speedster the 49ers need to have on their radar is Martavis Bryant. Bryant played three years at Clemson, caught 61 balls for 1,354 yards and scored 13 touchdowns. Unlike Cooks, he is much larger in stature. At 6’4”, he has a long, rangy frame.
He's a good red-zone target who can climb the ladder and highpoint the ball. Couple those attributes with his straight-line speed and Bryant could truly be a star in the making. The only problem is a lot of his testing skills that were on display at the combine don’t translate on the field.
Without a doubt, Bryant has a ton of skill, but he doesn’t always play like his 4.42-second 40-yard dash suggests he does. Additionally, he needs to work on catching the ball cleanly and running crisp routes. In 2013, he dropped way too many easy passes and looked stiff coming in and out of his breaks.
Similar to [Stephen] Hill when he entered the NFL, Bryant is a tall, legit vertical threat with potential to be drafted higher than expected, but needs to become more well-rounded as a pass-catcher and become more consistent at the catch point to reach his full potential.
Clearly, there isn’t a shortage of talented wide receivers in this year’s draft. That is music to Baalke’s ears, because he saw his team struggle mightily at the wide receiver position. Outside of Boldin and Crabtree, there wasn’t a single receiver on the roster who caught a touchdown pass or notched more than 20 receptions.
Yet, it doesn't do the 49ers any good to dwell on the past. Baalke and head coach Jim Harbaugh are focused on the future and putting in the necessary work to draft the right players for San Francisco's system.
Let's just hope, for the sake of the 49ers, he doesn't draft another player like A.J. Jenkins.