Upon Further Review: Boldin Can Still Be A Top Target
It’s been an up-and-down two weeks for Anquan Boldin, his first as a Niner. He endeared himself to 49ers’ fans in Week 1 after burning them in the Super Bowl by torching the Packers for 13 catches and more than 200 yards. Playing without Casey Hayward, and employing a zone defense to deter Colin Kaepernick from tucking the ball and using his legs to punish Green Bay, Boldin calmly found the soft part of the zone and had a career day. On the other hand, last Sunday night was a disaster for the Niners’ offense and Boldin. Kaepernick struggled, but Richard Sherman took it on himself to completely shut down the veteran. And that’s exactly what he did.
Sunday night was more of an aberration than a reality check. Boldin will not catch 13 balls a game for 200 yards. Likewise, he won’t be hauling in just one catch for seven yards on a routine basis. He’ll settle somewhere in the middle. When Kaepernick took over last season, Michael Crabtree averaged six catches for 88 yards and a touchdown in 10 games, including the playoffs. No, Boldin isn't Crabtree; he is lacking the speed at this point in his career. Crabtree also demonstrated his big-play ability, especially after the catch last season in the stretch run.
But let’s not think for a second that Crabtree would’ve had better success against Sherman. Sure, he might’ve got loose for a few catches, but Kaepernick didn't look good in the pocket and Sherman is exactly who he says he is: a shutdown corner. Last Sunday night, he was seen getting away with some shirt pulling on a few plays. Of course, that’s on the refs. If they don’t call it, he’ll continue to do it, so more power to him.
While Boldin’s savvy route running and zone-finding plays will beat many of the leagues’ corners, Sherman was just a dreadful matchup. Unfortunately, the entire slate of NFC West cornerbacks may not be a great matchup for the 33-year-old wideout. The Cardinals’ Patrick Peterson and the Rams’ Cortland Finnegan are both physical corners who may give Boldin some trouble this season. Finnegan has struggled so far in 2013, but he can always get under an opposing receivers’ skin and get them off their game. Peterson has been emerging as a top corner since he was chosen with the fifth overall pick in the 2011 draft. Although Calvin Johnson embarrassed him last Sunday, a lot of defensive backs in the league can say that. Arizona and St. Louis may have a blueprint on how to defend Boldin. If you press him at the line of scrimmage and force him to beat the coverage, he’ll struggle.
That’s not to say Boldin has no chance to affect the game. His uncanny knack for finding the open spaces in a defense will allow him to excel with Kaepernick as his quarterback. Kap will create extra time with his legs, and he has been undoubtedly looking to throw the ball before tucking and running. Against the Packers, Boldin was found on multiple broken plays, specificallyon a fourth down late in the game to extend a clock-killing drive. Boldin is forced into Crabtree’s role this season, but that doesn’t mean San Francisco’s offense will take a huge hit, especially with Kaepernick’s steps forward.
Boldin wasn’t a can’t-miss, big-time prospect coming out of Florida State. He fell out of the first round because of his modest measurables at the NFL Combine. He ran a 4.72 in the 40-yard dash and his vertical leap was 33.5 inches. Boldin has proven the doubters wrong by entering the season in the NFL's top 30 in all-time in receptions and top-40 in receiving yards. While he’s no lock to stay with the Niners after this season — he’s a free agent — but he should be able to hang around the league for a few more years. A young team short on wide receivers would likely take a dice roll on him as a mentor for their young players. It isn’t difficult to believe if Boldin sticks around for another couple of seasons he’ll break into the top-20 of both categories.
After a productive, but under-the-radar career, Boldin has one final chance to be the top target on a team. Despite his diminished skills, we should all pay attention to how a wide receiver’s craft is truly honed.