With Michael Crabtree tearing his Achilles tendon last week, the 49ers offense will take a different direction while he is out. As the leading receiver, he was a consistent go-to guy for the 49ers in critical situations.
Crabtree was Colin Kaepernick’s favorite target in the ten games that he started. It was evident even during the last three offensive plays of the Super Bowl for the 49ers with each passing attempt thrown to Crabtree.
On third down, Crabtree was ranked fifth in the league in third down conversions with 22. There will need to be a new player to step it up when called upon for third downs. The question is, who becomes that person?
The favorite to take this is Anquan Boldin, whom the 49ers acquired for a sixth round pick back in March. On the Ravens, Boldin had 16 third down conversions which includes eight of them being on third downs more than seven yards. Boldin is a veteran possession receiver who can get the job done with making big plays. He had 10 deep receptions of 20 yards or more which doubled the amount Crabtree had.
If Colin Kaepernick can find chemistry with Boldin the same way he did with Crabtree, the 49ers offense will have no problem. The biggest different between Boldin and Crabtree is the yards after catch (YAC). Crabtree was ranked fourth in the league in YAC with 543 yards which almost doubled Boldin’s total of 276 yards.
Other options could include the involvement of Vernon Davis, which was lacking initially when Kaepernick became the quarterback. He was limited to 144 yards and one touchdown in seven regular season games with Kaepernick, but had 254 yards and two touchdowns during the three postseason games. Delanie Walker was the favored TE target for Kaepernick, but now it is time for Davis to contribute with Kaepernick. Another TE weapon could be second round draft pick Vance McDonald who has the size and receiving ability to get open if others are covered.
The group of wide receivers becomes more balanced as a result of Crabtree’s injury. Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams are both very balanced in their skillsets while A.J. Jenkins and Ricardo Lockette specialize in speed. Jenkins and Lockette spent this offseason training with Kaepernick with hopes to find a common ground. The rookie fourth-round draft pick Quinton Patton could also contribute immediately with his all-around receiving play and could become a factor for the team.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh said at OTAs he is ready to see the receivers compete for playing time in the offseason. He felt that this offseason it will improve and elevate everyone’s game.
“We’re excited for the young receivers that we have. Really feel that somebody’s going to emerge there because they have to. And competition will create that. And we’ll look forward to watching that.”
With the quantity of balanced receivers, offensive coordinator Greg Roman has his work cut out for him in how to utilize everyone on third downs. The options are there and time will tell who emerges from this mix of competition.