I don't think anyone doubted the impact adding Anquan Boldin to a San Francisco 49ers wide receiver corps would do. The steady, talented slot master figured to take some pressure off Michael Crabtree, adding another reliable target for quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Now, obviously, we had to wait some time to see the fruits of that venture. How did the pair produce together once they were on the field?
NFL.com.com's Chris Wesseling opined on the matter recently, ranking the top 10 receiver duos around the league. Clearly, Crabtree and Boldin didn't play together long enough to warrant a high ranking, but they did enough to be noted in the honorable mention section. Was that mostly by name, an actual surge in the Niners' offense once Crabtree returned or some combination?
Once Crabtree came back in time for the team's December run, the passing attack was clearly better. It was better to the eye, and it was better on the spreadsheets, too.
Boldin averaged 73.69 yards per game over the course of the season. However, with Crabtree on the field, he averaged 91 yards over the final five games of the season. His receptions per game only went up about once catch, while his yards-per-reception and scoring numbers were flat.
That doesn't mean the offense didn't improve, though. It means the team had one very good receiver whose impressive numbers -- while often being the only target -- stayed consistent after the addition of another realistic option.
Here's a look at what each of Wesserling's top 10 did, adding in Boldin and Crabtree.
Note, I am using averages of when each of these duos were on the field together. This means Boldin gets no credit for the first 11 games of the season. Likewise, Roddy White only gets credit for his first five weeks of the season -- the time he spent on the field with Julio Jones before the latter was lost for the season. Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson were together the first five weeks of the season, then again in week 16. So we'll average their time together as well. You get the idea.
Stats courtesy pro-football-reference.com. Sorted by Yds/G. Rec/G, Yds/G and TD/G are combined averages, while Y/R is an average of each player's average.
I've removed the pairings that didn't play together last season, such as Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate. A paint bucket set at a random spot on the field would rack up sizable stats opposite Johnson, so we can assume they'll do ok. Likewise, Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson were not included.
Wesseling's rankings were fairly subjective, considering there are tandems who did not play with each other last season, and were on the field sparingly due to injuries. I'm certainly not bashing his rankings or questioning his logic. This is mostly for fun to see how Boldin and Crabtree would fare if they -- along with the other pairings on the list -- spend a full season together. This is not a rebuttal to his piece, per se, but more of a curiosity sparked by it.
These are small samples in some cases, with no curves for aging, opponent or game conditions. I'm certainly not pushing this as anything scientific.
But, I think what they show us that the 49ers passing attack is respectable when both Boldin and Crabtree are on the field. As a duo, they may even rival some of the other top units in the league. We all know the Niners have their shortcomings in the passing game -- namely in the red zone -- but there is plenty of promise here for what a full season of our top two targets could bring.
When you consider the focus on the rushing attack, along with one of the league's best defenses, it's hard to be too upset with our passing game. You can't have all-stars at all 22 positions on the field. This is an offense-first league, though, so we often times stress too much about the passing game without considering the importance of the rest of the roster.
Wins are wins, and we should take them however they come to us.
A full, healthy season with this offense may very well be pretty exciting.