No team wants to see its best wide receiver go down with a completely torn Achilles tendon. But if there are any silver linings to Michael Crabtree's injury, it's that it occurred in mid May and that the team already has an accomplished receiver with Crabtree-like abilities on the roster.
The lone critique when the 49ers acquired Anquan Boldin in March was that he was similar skills-wise to Crabtree. Neither is known for his speed, and both earn their livings with physical play on underneath routes. That is, while both are formidable receivers, they didn't exactly complement each other.
Crabtree's injury makes this point moot, of course, and the receivers' similarities work in the team's favor. Boldin will be looked upon to fill Crabtree's 2012 role as Colin Kaepernick's go-to receiver, possession-type receiver, especially on third downs.
The two have been working on their rapport.
"He's picked up the offense really fast," Kaepernick said recently. "And he has great hands, so throwing to him is pretty easy. If you put it in his area, he's going to catch it. ... I don't think he's missed too many reps since he's been here. So as a quarterback, that's very reassuring to have a receiver come in and take that upon themselves to not come out and make mistakes."
The bigger question is which receivers will emerge opposite Boldin. Crabtree's mid-May injury - along with last year's ACL injuries to Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams - allows the team to give long looks to three promising but inexperienced prospects.
Ricardo Lockette, 6-2, 211.
Strengths: On paper at least, Lockette is the best complement to Boldin, giving him a speedy, downfield receiver similar to what Boldin had in Baltimore with Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones. Lockette's track speed also would allow the 49ers to tap one of Kaepernick's heretofore under-utilized strengths - his ability to hurl a football deep, deep, deep downfield. That Lockette has been working closely with Kaepernick, his housemate, since last season only improves the receiver's chances.
Weakness: Lockette has had his incredible blend of size and speed all his life and never has had any prolific seasons as a receiver. At tiny Fort Valley State, he was known more as a return man than a receiver. Which is to say, Lockette - he turned 27 last week -- always has teemed with potential, but to this point he hasn't been able to convert it into productivity.
A.J. Jenkins, 6-0, 196.
Strengths: Jenkins offers another good complement to Boldin but in a different manner. Whereas Boldin is known for out-muscling defenders for the football and is perhaps the most brutish receiver in the league (Demaryius Thomas might give him a run for his money), Jenkins is extremely quick and fluid. This allows him to gain separation against defenders and is the primary reason why Trent Baalke fell in love with him in 2012. Unlike Lockette, Jenkins was a prolific college receiver, using his soft hands and slippery moves to catch 90 passes for 1,276 yards.
Weakness: Jenkins was overmatched physically as a rookie and made no contribution last season. He added some bulk in the offseason, but the lingering question is whether he has the aggressive, eye-of-the-tiger attitude to be a productive NFL receiver.
Quinton Patton, 6-0, 204.
Strengths: He's got good size, adequate speed, was highly productive in college and wants the ball in his hands. Patton took the difficult road to the NFL - lightly recruited out of high school, junior college, etc., but his desire and work ethic have allowed him to succeed to this point. When it comes to receiver, those two attributes are more important than any physical quality. (See: Rice, Jerry). Patton's had at least 1,200 receiving yards his last two years at Louisiana Tech, and some of his best games came against top competition.
Weakness: He's a rookie and while showing all sorts of energy and enthusiasm, he seems a bit scatterbrained. Having smart veterans like Boldin and Williams in the lockerroom should help in that regard.
Others to watch:
The 49ers will hold an OTA practice today that's open to the media. Of course, I'll be watching the receivers mentioned above. The session runs from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m.
-- Matt Barrows