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  • Steve Ruark / AP

    Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin speaks during a news conference after the NFL team announced the signing of the former Arizona Cardinals wide receiver to a four-year, $28 million contract Monday, March 8, 2010, at Ravens headquarters in Owings Mills, Md. (AP Photo/ Steve Ruark)

  • Marcio Jose Sanchez Associated Press Anquan Boldin (81), running a route Tuesday, is way out in front of the 49ers' other receivers.

  • Matthew Barrows

On the 49ers: S.F. should keep Boldin under glass

Published: Friday, May. 31, 2013 - 4:51 pm
Last Modified: Tuesday, Jun. 18, 2013 - 9:28 am

SANTA CLARA - This year's top nominee for the Han Solo treatment: wide receiver Anquan Boldin.

The 49ers ought to freeze him in carbonite, stow him somewhere at the team facility - maybe in the showcase next to the Super Bowl trophies? - and then thaw him out shortly before the season begins.

While the 49ers should be able to absorb the loss of Michael Crabtree this season, an injury to Boldin, the only healthy receiver on the roster with meaningful experience, would be a disaster.

When the 49ers agreed to ship a sixth-round pick to the Baltimore Ravens for Boldin on March 11, it was seen as a nice deal.

Boldin was just a month removed from thumping the 49ers in the Super Bowl. He caught the game's first touchdown pass, but his bigger catch was on a crucial third-and-one in the fourth quarter when he snatched the ball from Carlos Rogers, who had him well covered. Boldin led the Ravens with 104 receiving yards in the game.

The only criticism about the acquisition was that Boldin was a lot like Crabtree. He's not very big - a little more than 6 feet tall - and he's definitely not fast. Instead, he's a physical receiver who excels at running underneath routes, catching passes in traffic and picking up gritty first downs.

The same description fits Crabtree. Both are outstanding receivers, but they don't exactly complement each other.

Crabtree's torn Achilles' tendon underscores the importance of having two such receivers. And it elevates the March trade from "nice move" to "most critical move of the offseason" for the 49ers.

Everyone who watched Boldin in practice this week noted that he looked just as he did in the Super Bowl. The surprise wasn't that he was plucking footballs from defensive backs, sometimes against two at a time; he's been doing that since he played at Florida State.

The surprise was that it looked as if he has been part of the 49ers' offense for five years, not five weeks. He looked so sharp in May you wonder if it's worth risking him to injury in June, July and August.

(Caution: One side effect of carbonite freezing is temporary blindness, so the 49ers would need to begin the thawing process a week or so before the first game.)

It might not take very long for Colin Kaepernick to develop the same rapport with Boldin that he had with Crabtree when he took over as quarterback in November. In 10 games, Kaepernick targeted Crabtree 92 times.

One lesson from the Super Bowl was that Kaepernick could have used another target. He went to Crabtree three times in the 49ers' last offensive sequence, and everyone in the stadium - most notably the Ravens' defenders - knew where the ball was going.

Adding Boldin, who scored four touchdowns in the 2012 playoffs, was aimed at giving Kaepernick and the 49ers a second target, especially in the red zone.

Now the big mystery of the offseason is who will emerge opposite Boldin.

The top candidate has to be last year's first-round draft pick, A.J. Jenkins, who bulked up over the offseason and whose speed and slippery moves would provide - theoretically, at least - a nice one-two punch with Boldin.

But Jenkins did nothing to inspire confidence as a rookie last year, and he still is a question mark - like every other receiver on the roster.

Mario Manningham has experience, but he's coming back from a torn knee ligament and his return is uncertain. Ricardo Lockette is the fastest player on the roster, but he hasn't been able to convert potential into production. Quinton Patton shows promise but is a rookie.

The good news is that the 49ers have all offseason for one of those players to emerge.

The bad news is that they would be in real trouble if their only sure thing at receiver, Boldin, went down with an injury, too.

Read Matthew Barrows' blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers and listen for his reports Tuesdays on ESPN Radio 1320. Follow him on Twitter @mattbarrows.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Matthew Barrows



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