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San Francisco 49ers 2014 roster review: Wide receivers

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We continue our position-by-position review of the 49ers' 2014 season with the wide receivers, featuring Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers may not be great at drafting wide receivers, at least in recent years, but they're doing pretty well for themselves in the trade market. San Francisco gave up a sixth-round pick to acquire Anquan Boldin from the Baltimore Ravens in 2013, and he's put up more than 2,000 yards and 12 touchdowns in two seasons with the team.

Last offseason, they went out and traded for Stevie Johnson, and while that trade didn't benefit the team as much as Boldin's, Johnson was a solid contributor. He also probably would have done a lot more if Colin Kaepernick didn't play poorly, the offensive line didn't have a bad year and the team wasn't completely incapable of calling an offensive game effectively.

But the wide receiver position is far from settled. Johnson's contract isn't exactly team-friendly, Boldin is 34 years old and Michael Crabtree hasn't panned out as expected and is likely out the door. There are some promising guys, like Bruce Ellington and Quinton Patton, but the opinion that the 49ers need to draft a receiver high is nearly unanimous, from what I've heard.

Before we get to that though, let's take a quick look at each receiver below.

Anquan Boldin - 16 games, 83 receptions, 1,062 yards, 5 touchdowns

When Boldin came to San Francisco, he was coming off three consecutive sub-1,000-yard seasons in Baltimore. He wasn't playing poorly or anything, but he was clearly on the downside of his career. Then he came to San Francisco, where he was expected to be the No. 2 guy behind Crabtree, and where he was expected to fulfill a veteran role more than anything.

Boldin has been fantastic, though. This past season was just as good as 2013, and it would have been even better if he'd actually, you know, been playing for a good offense. Boldin has more natural instinct with the football than anyone in the league -- I think the way everything is so natural to him catching the football and where his body is as he's making a catch is nothing short of incredible. Obviously, I'm a huge Boldin fan.

That said, I can't see him playing behind 2015, at least for San Francisco. The 49ers will be short a No. 1 receiver very soon.

Michael Crabtree - 16 games, 68 receptions, 698 yards, 4 touchdowns

Crabtree has been a massively divisive player since being taken in the first round by the 49ers. It feels like a lot of people still like him, and I still get very excited when he has the football in his hands, but he's never looked like a No. 1 receiver. I have the sneaking suspicion that Crabtree is going to go somewhere else and do a lot better than he did in San Francisco, but I don't see him ever fulfilling that No. 1 receiver role.

Whatever the case, his 2014 season wasn't particularly strong. He played a full 16 games which was nice, but he only managed 698 yards and wasn't exactly a weapon in the red zone. Boldin was clearly better and clearly a favorite target of Kaepernick, while Crabtree was just sort of ... there. He didn't manage a single 100-yard game over the course of the season.

Stevie Johnson - 13 games, 35 receptions, 435 yards, 3 touchdowns

Johnson was a very effective weapon in clutch situations. ESPN credits him with 24 first-down receptions this past season, which is impressive given his limited playing time. I didn't chart it, but I know a good portion of those came on third down. I felt that Johnson was more effective than Crabtree when he was on the field with just Boldin, and think he still has plenty left to offer.

But the 49ers didn't seem to feel the same way, often keeping him off the field for Brandon Lloyd. Whatever the case, I thought Johnson looked fast, didn't commit any stupid penalties or drops and has a lot to offer going forward. That said, his contract doesn't look great next season and it's not difficult to picture him going elsewhere.

Brandon Lloyd, 14 games, 14 receptions, 294 yards, 1 touchdown

I've already admitted that I was totally wrong about Brandon Lloyd. I expected nothing out of him, and thought the chances of him making the roster were zero. But Lloyd actually got out there and had some very impressive catches. I thought the 49ers used him in a weird way -- only on deep out routes, mostly -- and often didn't target him. When they did target him, he made some big catches and that was cool to see. But honestly, what do we expect out of him going forward? Last year, I predicted he'd be a camp guy the 49ers call if an injury occurs and that's my prediction for 2015.

Bruce Ellington - 13 games, 6 receptions, 62 yards, 2 touchdowns

Ellington, a rookie, got a whole lot more playing time than Patton, the guy a lot of folks were excited about last season. But Ellington still didn't do a whole lot, with just six receptions on the season. He was effective as a returner and has a place on the team in that vein in the future, and probably has more to offer than Patton does on offense.

That all depends on how the 49ers choose to use him going forward. He seems to offer a lot out of the backfield, and seems fully capable of running routes. I just don't know what his ceiling is, but I bet his value as a returner is what gives him opportunities going forward, behind Boldin, potentially Johnson and whoever the 49ers draft because let's be honest ... that's going to happen.

Quinton Patton - 4 games, 3 receptions, 44 yards

I was firmly on the Patton bandwagon but I honestly am not sure what he brings to the table at this point. He's a solid route-runner and he can catch the football, but he's not especially fast or particularly versatile. He also has injury concerns, and while I'm sure he'll have his chance to compete, he hasn't shown anything in his first two seasons to indicate that he's got a bright future in San Francisco.

Looking Ahead

First of all, Crabtree is probably going elsewhere and I doubt there's any chance he stays in San Francisco. That leaves an opening for No. 2 receiver, which can be filled by Johnson if the 49ers feel OK with his contract. But all signs point to the 49ers spending a high draft pick on a receiver in the 2015 NFL Draft. Hopefully it goes better than the last three times the 49ers used a first-round pick on a wide receiver.

The free agent class is very strong at receiver, though some of these guys probably aren't realistically available. Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant and Randall Cobb aren't going to happen, Jeremy Maclin is in the same boat. Torrey Smith is the biggest name who is actually probably available and while I like that potential signing, I just don't see the 49ers spending big at the position.

There are definitely some potential reclamation projects out there, like Hakeem Nicks and Cecil Shorts, but there's nothing too tantalizing out there. It's the NFL Draft that's the real headline and rather than make a fool of myself talking about these guys, here's the Niners Nation rankings from Nick Chiamardas and SB Nation's last rankings, which are from November.

Who do you like?

Previous rankings: QBRBTESOLBILB