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San Francisco 49ers: Breaking Down Their Depth at Wide Receiver

Feb 3, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin (81) catches a pass in front of San Francisco 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers (22) during the fourth quarter in Super Bowl XLVII at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

As the 2012 season came to a close, wide receiver became a bigger and bigger need for the San Francisco 49ers.

Michael Crabtree stepped up for the 49ers, but San Francisco didn’t have a lot of depth at wide receiver. Kyle Williams and Mario Manningham succumbed to season-ending injuries, A.J. Jenkins never fully lived up to expectations, and Randy Moss didn’t contribute tons as San Francisco’s second receiver.

With a quarterback like Colin Kaepernick, who possesses superb arm strength and is a threat to run, playmaking wide receivers make the offense absolutely lethal. The 49ers added some in the offseason, as they traded for Anquan Boldin and drafted Quinton Patton. Boldin caught 22 passes for 380 yards and four touchdowns in the 2013 NFL Playoffs with the Ravens, and he came to be a valuable weapon and safety vault for Joe Flacco.

The 49ers somehow managed to obtain Boldin, who posted a drop rate of less than 3 percent, by giving up a mere sixth-round draft pick. The receiver who seems to have glue on his hands will compliment another sure-handed weapon in Crabtree, who appeared to be the lone wolf at wideout for the 49ers as the 2012 season wrapped up.

That won’t be the case in 2013, though. Patton was obtained with the 128th pick in the draft, and he will be a stud in San Francisco. Patton can take over a game by getting open and making stellar catches, which he did at Louisiana Tech. Somehow, Patton managed to haul in 21 passes against Texas A&M, accumulating 233 receiving yards and reaching the end zone four times in the process.

With Patton on the outside as a deep threat (Patton caught a pass of 52 yards or more in seven games in 2012), Kaepernick will have a lot of options. If Patton can establish himself as a deep threat and a legitimate pass-catcher, opponents would key in on him and would have to shift attention away from Davis. Davis combined to catch 11 passes for 210 yards and a touchdown in the NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl, so he would make a defense pay.

If Patton and Boldin can consistently stay on the field, Davis will likely be bunched up with lineman a lot. San Francisco’s three primary receivers are best suited for playing on the outside, though, so we could see Davis fill a hole on the slot as well. If the 49ers do decide to use three wide receivers primarily, expect Boldin to line up in the slot and Davis to line up bunched in with the lineman.

This formation would allow Crabtree and Patton to spread the field for Davis and Boldin or get open deep for a big play. Kaepernick has shown that he has the audacity to make hard throws, and he has the arm strength to hook up with his deep threats for a big gain. Kaepernick fires bullets to his receivers, which makes it hard to put deep balls in a desirable location. However, Kaepernick didn’t have tons of problems with deep-ball accuracy in 2012, so it shouldn’t be a huge problem in 2013.

Kaepernick won’t be throwing only deep balls, though. Boldin isn’t exactly a deep threat, but he can gain separation and pull in any throw. Davis has good hands as well, and he is a speedy tight end. If Kaepernick can get the ball to his receivers and give Davis a favorable matchup, Davis will get open. Davis can block as well, as he has a rare combination of speed and strength.

With the abundance of talent at wide receiver and Kaepernick at quarterback, it seems impossible for the 49ers’ offense not to score. Patton will need to prove himself, but he is a dangerous receiver who can rip apart any defense. Crabtree has experience from San Francisco’s two deep playoff runs, and he developed great chemistry with Kaepernick in 2012. Crabtree is San Francisco’s best receiver, but he won’t be alone.

The 49ers needed to address the wide receiver position, and the front office did a great job patching up this hole. Boldin is a great receiver who will develop tremendous chemistry with Kaepernick and make an impact immediately, Patton has a wealth of potential, and Manningham, who came up with some huge catches in Super Bowl 46, is always a threat to get open. Manningham won’t play much, but he will likely see some time as San Francisco’s fourth wide receiver

If Kaepernick and his new toys can develop good chemistry right off the bat, defensive coordinators will have nightmares about the 49ers’ offense. Kaepernick and Crabtree developed solid chemistry right off the bat, so there’s no reason to believe that Kaepernick won’t get in sync with Boldin and Patton soon. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman opened up the playbook when Kaepernick took over, and he did a great job keeping defenses off-balance during the postseason.

Roman will use his receivers’ strengths to his advantage, which will make the receiving corps even more dangerous. Unless a team has multiple dominant quarterbacks, it won’t be able to handle the depth the 49ers have. Trent Baalke knocked it out of the park with his acquisitions, and the 49ers will be more dangerous than ever as a result.

And unless the injury bug bites the 49ers, their wide receivers will be unstoppable.

Topics: Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree, NFL, Quinton Patton, San Francisco 49ers

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  • loverpoint

    You have included, Wr’s , Te’s, but you forgot to include a very valuable potential weapon. Throwing to his running backs.

    Although Frank Gore has good hands he does not have the explosive speed of LaMichael James after catching a ball. I happen to believe James is more of a threat as a receiver than Hunter. James has the ability to fake a defender out of their shoes in the open field, plus the quick acceleration to score from anywhere on the field.

    The problem is that Greg Roman has done a poor job at utilizing all the weapons the 49ers have because of the lack of imaginative offensive play calling.

    He never utilized the speed of Ted Ginn Jr. If he would have put Ginn in occasionally to stretch the field it would have opened up other aspects of the offense. Now he has 3 potential speed burners in Lockette, Patton, Williams and Jenkins.

    • TURRON DAVENPORT

      IT is crazy to say that Greg Roman was not imaginative in his play calling. The 49ers ran a lot of different formations and used plenty of personnel. Ted Ginn Jr. did see the field but was not a threat. Roman was creative in using him on jet sweep plays and even on option type plays as shown by the debacle at the end of the Rams game in St. Louis.

      The article didn’t mention Crabtree playing the slot and he is just as good of a slot option as Boldin. They were 1st and 2nd in the NFL in YAC from the slot position. The 49ers like to use Crabtree from that spot and bring Manningham in to play outside. Manningham won’t just automatically lose his spot as the #3 WR to Patton. You have to understand that it’s not easy to for a rookie WR to just come in and play in Harbaugh/Roman’s offense. Patton will have to learn the system well before he even thinks of taking Manningham’s spot. Truth be told, Kyle Williams may even take some snaps away from him.