Veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin is now wearing No. 81 for the 49ers instead of the Ravens. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Anquan Boldin has been in the NFL since 2003, caught 772 passes, has gone to three Pro Bowls and played in two Super Bowls, so he isn’t exactly an under-the-radar kind of player.
Yet Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, in his Monday Morning Quarterback column this week, says Boldin’s impact on the 49ers may be the most overlooked storyline of NFL training camps so far.
Because King, a longtime NFL observer, believes Boldin’s impact on the Niners will be enormous, both as a receiver and as a leader, especially in light of what is likely to be the season-ending Achilles’ tendon injury by No. 1 receiver Michael Crabtree.
“Boldin, traded for a pittance (the 199th pick in the April draft) could be the most important receiver on two different Super Bowl contenders, just months apart,” wrote King of the ex-Ravens standout. “And nobody’s talking about it. It’s the NFL story hiding in plain sight.”
Boldin, 32, remains fit, strong and fast and is coming off a 2012 regular season in which he caught 65 passes for 921 yards and four TDs, then added 22 postseason receptions for 380 yards and four more scores for Baltimore, which beat the 49ers in the Super Bowl.
He’s a good route runner who battles for the ball with his 6-foot-1, 220-pound body, and could prove to become a favorite target of quarterback Colin Kaepernick. But King says Boldin’s contributions will go beyond what he does as a pass catcher, and he cites a recent day when the receiver asked the Niners staff for a white board so he could draw up plays and routes and quiz some of the younger receivers on the team about assignments.
Kaepernick, after one recent practice, told King that Boldin has been outstanding since he reported for training camp in Santa Clara last week.
“That’s a grown man out there,” Kaepernick told King. “He’ll help the young guys whenever they ask him something. He’ll tell them how he kind of works things, but he just has a savvy for the game that you can’t teach. He knows how to position his body to make a catch, he knows how he wants to stick and work routes. To me as a quarterback, that’s what you want. You want someone who knows, ‘All right, I need to be in this window in this amount of time.’ He’s going to be there and make sure he’s open.”
Boldin also is helping the Niners’ defense.
Since arriving in San Francisco, 49ers defenders have been quizzing him on how the Ravens game-planned for them, and what things they were trying to exploit. That’s helping this summer as the Niners prepare for the regular season.
“A lot of guys came up to me and asked me, ‘What did the scouting report have on it? What did it say?’ ” Boldin told ESPN.com’s NFC West blogger, Mike Sando, recently. “Things like that. I’ve had a chance to communicate that to guys.”
Though the San Francisco defense was formidable last season, ranking No. 2 in points allowed, No. 3 in total defense and fourth in yards rushing allowed, the unit was much more vulnerable in the postseason when its pass rush broke down and its pass coverage was leaky.
Boldin has been able to provide some information for his new teammates and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to work on this summer.
But Boldin sees the 49ers defense as very, very good. Playing against it every day in practice is difficult.
“You want a challenge every day,” Boldin told Sando. “You want guys that are going to make you work because in the end that makes you better as an offense. Offensively, here, we don’t have any days off going against this defense. They have a lot of studs on the other side of the ball, and I think that’s a plus for us.”