Written By: Michael Andrews
Before the San Fransico 49ers re-signed receiver Anquan Boldin, we expressed the unpopular opinion that if/when he returned, it would turn into a situation where he (when combined with a healthy Crabtree) would stunt the progress of Colin Kaepernick’s level of comfort with the other receivers on the team. Immediately passionate fans started insulting and attacking the opinion expressed saying that it was idiotic to say such a thing; that there is no way that Boldin would hold the team back; that Boldin and Michael Crabtree only make the team better. Yes, Boldin and Crabtree together for an entire year make this offense very good. Two sure-handed receivers, what some would call “possession receivers” on this team, makes the 49ers hard to stop (inside 20 yards, but that’s another story). But the fact remains, that with the two of them on the field, is there ever a chance that someone else, in the same position, gets a target?
Kaepernick threw the ball a total of 228 times (to wide receivers). Of those targets, Boldin and Crabtree accounted for 163 of them (71%). That means that all other receivers on the team accounted for only 65 targets (just less than 29%). Considering the 49ers have Mario Manningham, Quinton Patton, Doug Baldwin, Kassim Osgood and Kyle Williams (later traded to Kansas City), and Crabtree was absent for 11 games, one would think that another receiver would emerge as a solid second option. That (unfortunately) was not the case. The player that was only active for 5 games of the season (Michael Crabtree) was 2nd in receiver targets for the entire year with 33.
Let’s assume that both Crabtree and Boldin are healthy for an entire 2014-2015 season, what is the likelihood that another receiver emerges? Maybe if we ran more 3WR sets, someone would get “Kap’s” attention during the game or after in the film room. But what are the odds of that? I don’t blame Kaepernick in the least bit. If I had Boldin, Crabtree, and Vernon Davis to throw to, why would I even bother looking for someone else? How many reads do we expect this man to make on a single play? Then there is the formation issue… Not many teams use a full back all the time like we do. Then there is the beloved 2-3 TE sets… there is rarely space on this offense for a 3rd receiver to be on the field. So how will someone else emerge as a future threat? Do we have to wait until we lose one, or each?
PRACTICE! This is where I am hoping someone will emerge. With Crabtree and Boldin being veterans and having knowledge of the system, I’m hoping the coaches give them some resting time so the likes of Patton and whoever the 49ers draft will WOW some coaches and Kaepernick. Boldin’s return means that there won’t be a consistent #2 other than him in the weekly practices. We have heard the argument that mental reps are important to the development of young players, and we completely agree, they are. But when it all comes down to it, there is no other combination of positions that requires physical reps like that between QB and WR. Mainly because it’s all about timing and rhythm; besides that, practices are said to be significantly slower than game speed. The truth of the matter is, backups don’t get many reps with the starters unless it’s for a specific package. But fear not, there is something to look forward to!
During the preseason, Patton looked very promising. Running reverses, blocking down field and knowing his blocking assignments early were impressive feats! He even had a screen go for 44 yards and a TD, but not one time did we see this play even attempted in the regular or post season. I think Patton will have another great preseason as well as earning the trust of the Kap during practices. If anyone has a chance at showing up this season other than out #1 and #2, it’s Q! Even if he doesn’t this offense will be a dangerous force this coming season and should be vastly improved over the last year. During the 2013 season, our offense at “full strength” was without our starting FB and had an injured Crabtree down the stretch. This offseason, Crabtree will come back better than his ’13 play and if Bruce isn’t ready, Tukuafu will be up to speed.
So fret not. The offense will perform but the youth may have to wait yet another year to shine.