The 49ers have a new face at Wide Receiver. Perhaps you have heard about the trade of former 1st round picks with the Chiefs. The 49ers gave up a young speedster with supposed and unrealized potential for, well, a big young wideout with supposed and unrealized potential and character issues—he did, after all, injure himself in a locker room fight his rookie season. So what exactly are the 49ers getting out of Jon Baldwin? How will he fit in with the rest of the receiving corps?
Baldwin was listed recently as the Chiefs’ number 2 wide receiver. That says 2 things: first, that Baldwin has raw talent and secondly, the Chiefs have a pretty awful group behind Dwayne Bowe. As it stands, Baldwin is a big target at 6’4” and will be a much better matchup for the physical corners in the NFC West, in particular the high number of cornerbacks for a certain team that keep getting connected to Adderall. He will be able to hold his own against the strength and size of players such as Richard Sherman. This could be a big plus for San Francisco—that is, of course, if Baldwin can ever earn playing time. Baldwin also has consistently struggled mentally. Jim Harbaugh and Trent Baalke have taken some gambles recently—see Eric Wright—and appear more than confident that, with the right guys in the locker room, mental obstacles can be overcome. Hopefully they are more right about this than they were about A.J. Jenkins. Other than the size of his body or head, Baldwin has shown lots of raw talent. Bill Belichick even liked him a lot out of the University of Pittsburgh. He has actually caught passes in the NFL too—unlike the guy he was traded for. Ultimately, Baldwin seems like the kind of guy that may take another year or two to truly judge, but will fit with the 49ers much better than with the Chiefs. It is too bad the 49ers need receivers to produce immediately. Perhaps Baldwin will fill that role, but it appears some other receivers will have to do so.
After the obvious starter, Anquan Boldin, possible receivers include Kyle Williams, who looks solid and has been vouched for by Harbaugh thus far, Marlan Moore, who similarly has been praised, Austin Collie, Chad Hall, Ricardo Lockette, Lavelle Hawkins, Chuck Jacobs, and Kassim Osgood. Then, of course, there is the recently returned Quinton Patton, a fourth round pick from this year, who I would be shocked to not see in the Cardinal and Gold this season. I would expect the 49ers to keep 5-6 receivers on the active roster to start the season. (Mario Manningham and Michael Crabtree both may return this season and either add to this number or replace a player or two, but that does not impact the immediate future.) Collie has shown obvious talent in his career catching passes from Peyton Manning. If he can avoid hits to the head, he should thrive as the speedy slot receiver for Colin Kaepernick. I expect him to remain on the roster the remainder of the year. Williams and Moore, who seem to have locked up roster spots, both should be in the regular rotation. I would expect Williams to return some kicks too. I see one more roster spot going to a receiver, and I expect it to go to Hall, Lockette, or Hawkins, with Lockette being the favorite to win the sixth spot, should it be offered. I also like the idea of Chuck Jacobs, who recently caught the 49ers first preseason touchdown, to make the practice squad. Lockette seems to be the kind of guy that Harbaugh likes. Who knows, this is just a gut feeling on my part.
With the addition of Baldwin, look for a receiving corps consisting of him, Boldin, Wiliams, Moore, Collie, Patton and probably Lockette with Jacobs on the practice squad. Hopefully Baldwin can prove something. If not, well, it’s no worse than the bust the 49ers already had.