This upcoming season, the 49ers arguably will have the slowest base offense in the NFL. I’m talking 21 personnel – Frank Gore at tail back, Bruce Miller at fullback, Vernon Davis at tight end, Michael Crabtree at flanker and Anquan Boldin at split end.
When those players are on the field for the 49ers, their fastest players are the tight end and the quarterback. If the 49ers want more speed, they could replace Gore with LaMichael James, but still, the 49ers’ three fastest offensive players – Davis, Kaepernick and James – would line up in the chaos of the tackle box.
Typically, an offense’s fastest players are split out wide. That’s how Bill Walsh structured his offenses, and that’s how the majority of the NFL structures offense today.
The past two seasons, a key part of Jim Harbaugh’s offensive structure has been a deep-threat split end. First there was Braylon Edwards, then there was Kyle Williams, then there was Mario Manningham and then there was Randy Moss. Harbaugh seemed to want a fast receiver to complement Michael Crabtree – an elite flanker who is not fast and does not threaten a defense deep.
Boldin is not a deep threat. He’s an underneath receiver who turns 33 in October, and he’s slower than Crabtree. Last season, he was most effective lining up in the slot in 11 personnel for the Ravens.
The 49ers haven’t used 11 personnel often the past two seasons – they’ve preferred to use two-wide-receiver or two-tight-end formations, and to save 11 personnel for third-down-and-medium-to-long.
Do you think the Boldin-Crabtree duo will be effective in the 49ers’ 21 personnel packages? Do you think the duo’s lack of speed will negatively impact the 49ers’ rushing attack as opposing safeties creep closer and closer to the line of scrimmage?
Do you think other personnel packages will be more effective than 21 for the 49ers this season, like 12 (one running back, two tight ends) 22 (two running backs, two tight ends) or 11 (one running back, one tight end)? How would you rank those personnel packages?
Do you think rookie tight end Vance McDonald will play more snaps and/or catch more passes than Boldin this season?
Do you think Mario Manningham, Kyle Williams, A.J. Jenkins, Ricardo Lockette or Quinton Patton will establish himself as a deep threat by midseason? Remember, Manningham and Williams tore knee ligaments six months ago and Jenkins didn’t get out of the batter’s box his rookie season. Lockette is big and fast but he has questionable hands and has caught just two passes in his career. Patton runs a 4.48, so he isn’t slow, but he currently is an underneath receiver like Crabtree and Boldin.
Finally, do you think the 49ers’ offense has enough speed, particularly at wide receiver, to be a Super Bowl Championship offense this season? Why or why not?