Daily Focus: Anquan Boldin a perfect fit for Saints in slot
Editor’s note: Every day in “Daily Focus,” PFF analysts take the latest NFL news and translate what it really means for each team involved.
Anquan Boldin a great fit for the Saints: It’s been a quiet offseason for him so far, but Ian Rapoport of NFL.com is reporting that the favorites to sign free-agent wide receiver Anquan Boldin are the New Orleans Saints. Boldin has had a long and impressive career in the NFL, and despite being 35 years old and seeing a decrease in the interest for his services, he still has a lot to offer most franchises. That being said, of all the teams in the NFL, he could be a perfect short-term fit for the Saints.
The Saints have revamped their wide-receiver group in recent years, with Brandin Cooks embracing in the role of No. 1 receiver last season, racking up 1,138 yards and nine touchdowns. They improved again this offseason, drafting former Ohio State playmaker Michael Thomas, so the unit is definitely on the way up.
One player they have lost, though, is Marques Colston, cutting him earlier in the offseason after a failed physical. He graded negatively in each of his final two seasons in New Orleans, but his departure does leave the Saints needing to fill the void of his role as a big slot receiver. Of his 580 snaps on the field last year, 374 came from the slot.
That’s where Boldin comes in. He spent 434 of his 776 snaps last season in the slot, racking up 447 yards and a touchdown on 41 receptions in that role. His skill-set perfectly fits what the Saints are looking for in a third receiver, and was also pretty reliable in 2015. He dropped just four of the 73 catchable passes thrown his way, so while his yards per catch average has dropped from 13.9 to 11.4 over the past three seasons, his ability to make the tough grab makes him a good option for a possession receiver.
Boldin has always used his body really well to shield passes away from defenders, and it’s a big reason why he has managed to carve out such a long career. When you think back to the scouting combine before the 2003 NFL draft, Boldin managed a 40-yard dash time of just 4.71 seconds. That didn’t stop him making a huge impact as a rookie, though, catching 101 passes for 1,377 yards.
One of the best observations you can make about Boldin’s career is that he doesn’t have the speed to run past guys to get separation, even more so these days, but his body control means that it doesn’t really matter. It’s unlikely that he can come into New Orleans and start catching 80-yard touchdown passes on a regular basis, but looking at his grades since we started grading (now stretching back to include most of the 2006 season), there’s nothing to say that Boldin can’t join the Saints and become a solid, chain-moving, possession receiver in that offense for Drew Brees. With talented youngsters on the outside in Cooks and Thomas, a reliable veteran like Boldin to work the slot is just what the Saints need to complete that group.
Justin Tucker deserves to be paid as the top kicker in the league: With the deadline to sign franchise players to contract extensions today at 4 p.m. ET, we are firmly in the stage of the final pushes for leverage in negotiations. That includes Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker, who reportedly will have no interest in re-signing with the Ravens after the 2016 season if no deal is done today. Now, measuring the seriousness of this claim is entirely up to you, but what we do know is that Tucker is almost definitely going to get the highest contract in the NFL for a kicker, be that from the Ravens or elsewhere. Does he deserve that, though?
Well, the short answer is yes. Tucker’s leg gives some added security to the Ravens’ offense, and he can hit some seriously-long field goals. Through his four-year career, Tucker has connected on 88.5 percent of his field goals, including 95.2 percent from inside 50 yards, including the playoffs. We all remember his 61-yard game-winner against the Lions on Monday Night Football, a game where he kicked six field goals and accounted for all the points the Ravens scored that night, and his career numbers from 50 yards or longer are pretty impressive, at 61.3 percent.
With that consistency from inside 50 yards, and the leg to make the big kicks from 50 and beyond, the Ravens would be wise to make Tucker the highest-paid kicker in NFL history and lock him up long-term.
Demaryius Thomas should have a better year in 2016: Demaryius Thomas had a disappointing 2015 season for the Denver Broncos. Now, that might sound ridiculous for a player that recorded 112 receptions for 1,364 yards and six touchdowns (including the playoffs) last year, but he also dropped 14 of the 126 catchable passes thrown his way and averaged just 12.2 yards per reception, the lowest total of his six-year NFL career so far. In fact, everything about Thomas’ season last year, with the exception of missed tackles forced, was at its lowest point in the past four years, if not his entire career. Yards per reception, touchdowns, receiving yards, and PFF overall grade were all at least at a four-year low, while his 14 drops were the most in a season for Thomas.
There’s no reason to think that he won’t bounce back, however, with his “down year” still better than a lot of other receivers. There’s also something to be encouraged about when it comes to the number of missed tackles he forced in 2015, finishing the season fourth among wide receivers in that regard, with 20. Let’s not forget that he wasn’t exactly blessed with outstanding quarterback play, either, with Peyton Manning struggling in the final season of his career, so don’t be shocked to see him putting up some of the best numbers in the league once again in 2016.
(PFF Fantasy Insight: Despite everything, Thomas was still the No. 13 fantasy receiver last year, and our staff consensus rankings have him as the No. 17 WR for this season. Thomas should have a high floor, but he’s also risky. His teammate Emmanuel Sanders could also be a bounceback candidate, considering the deep-ball struggles in Denver last year.)