Each year, we run a series of post called "90-in-90" here at Niners Nation. The idea is that we'll take a look at every single player on the roster, from the very bottom to the top and break them down a few different ways. This is to help give everyone a basic understanding of a roster. Of course, this roster will change, and some days we'll have more than one so it's not strictly one per day but Fooch is a crazy person who manages this blog with no rhyme or reason and it's worked so far. Who am I to argue?
The departure of Justin Smith removes a significant on-field leader from the 49ers fold. There is plenty of potential leaders, and one who reminds me of Smith in a lot of ways is Anquan Boldin. I would say Boldin seems a bit more vocal, particularly when it comes to trash talk, but he generally backs it up on the field. And so given Cowboy's retirement on Monday, it made the Anquan Boldin 90-in-90 seem sufficiently timely.
When the 49ers first signed Boldin, I could not have been more excited about the combination of Boldin with Michael Crabtree. They were both incredibly physical blockers, and they both had some great hands. Unfortunately, Crabtree dealt with his torn Achilles in 2013, and general struggles in 2014. The duo was never quite what I was hoping for.
That being said, Boldin has held up his end of the bargain. In 2014, he caught 83 passes for 1,062 yards, making him the first 49ers receiver to have back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons since Terrell Owens from 2000 to 2003. He has been a key cog in the 49ers passing game the last two years, and heads into the final year of his contract with no signs of slowing down.
Why he might improve:
The 49ers had Boldin, Crabtree and Stevie Johnson in their depth chart last season, and it just never quite fully clicked. The problem is that all three are similar receivers. They each have their own strengths, but for the most part, they did a lot of similar things. The team had Brandon Lloyd, but he had limited value. And Vernon Davis could have stretched the field, but his game fell off a cliff due to either injury, getting old, or some combination of the two.
This year, the 49ers bring in Torrey Smith, and hope for a return to form from Vernon Davis. Even if Davis struggles again, Smith can help stretch the field in a way Crabtree and Johnson could not do last year. If the 49ers can consistently get a receiver deep, that opens up the shorter stuff all the more. Defensive backs are not suddenly going to forget about Boldin, but he would benefit. I am not expecting career-numbers from Boldin, and in fact, his numbers could go down. I don't think that would necessarily be reflective of regression. A combination of strong years from both Boldin and Smith, or even helping lead to the emergence of Bruce Ellington or Quinton Patton would be indicative of a strong year.
Why he might regress:
He is getting older. There's no denying that. His game is not built on young-man skills like speed, so age is not quite as significant a debilitator. Nonetheless, he is getting older and that very well could slow down his game as a whole. I don't expect it, but it will be something to track.
And of course, the 49ers passing game as a whole needs to improve. The addition of Torrey Smith and what we can only hope is some consistency on the offensive line will hopefully improve the passing game. But if Colin Kaepernick were to regress, that would lead to struggles for the passing game as a whole.
Odds of making the roster:
He's not going anywhere this year. The bigger question is what happens after this season. Boldin's contract technically was through 2018, but the final three years were voidable for salary cap purposes. He will be a free agent after this season, and turns 35 in October. It is possible he keeps playing, and it is possible he decides to walk away and devote his time to his family and foundation. I honestly have no idea what Boldin has planned for his career after this season wraps up.