Worth a Shot: Anquan Boldin

Gordon McGuinness checks in on Anquan Boldin's value and, should he be let go, where he might be able to serve next.

| 4 years ago

Worth a Shot: Anquan Boldin

With news breaking on Saturday that Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin had rejected the team’s offer of a restructured contract that would see him cost less than a projected $6 million against the 2013 salary cap, it looks likely that the veteran will be released and hit the open market. So what does that mean for the Ravens and quarterback Joe Flacco, who relied heavily on him in the playoffs? And where is Boldin likely to find interest in his services as he departs Baltimore? Here we take a look at where both parties will potentially go from here.

The Playoff MVP?

When you win the Super Bowl, it’s usually because more than a few players on your roster have upped their games at the right moments. Boldin was one of those players in Baltimore, producing 22 catches for 380 yards and four touchdowns in the four-game span that led to the Ravens hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in New Orleans. It wasn’t even so much that he was a constant weapon for the Ravens’ passing offense, but for stretches of their wins against the Indianapolis Colts, the New England Patriots, and the San Francisco 49ers, he just flat out took over.

Be it his third quarter against the Colts, the second half against New England, or the opening drive in the Super Bowl, when the Ravens needed him to make an impact, Boldin was there for the Ravens and Flacco. If you need any further evidence of this just take a look at one of the defining plays from the Super Bowl. With the Ravens facing 3rd-and-inches with 7:14 left in the game, Flacco checked out of a run and instead opted to connect with Boldin downfield. Beating cornerback Carlos Rogers, he was able to hold onto the ball and extend a drive that eventually would see the Ravens take a five-point lead late in the game.

That’s the player the Ravens are letting go and, unless they bring him back after letting him test the market, they look set to put their faith in third-year wide receiver Torrey Smith as Flacco’s top receiving option. Smith has developed into one of the premier deep threats in the NFL, but is he ready to take over Boldin’s mantle as the team’s top target? He saw 128 passes thrown his way in the regular season and playoffs combined, just 16 fewer than Boldin, but reeled in just 60 of them and dropped seven. Of those 128 targets, a whopping 41 came on “Go” routes and (if he is indeed set to become Baltimore’s No. 1) he needs to progress a little further in terms of route running as opposed to just beating players deep with his speed. Beyond Smith, it would leave Jacoby Jones and Tandon Doss as the next men up before any additions to the roster and, while Jones had big play moments in 2012, neither look like anything more than role players at this stage.

Slot Production

Looking back to the success the Ravens had in the playoffs, you’ll see that six of Flacco’s 11 postseason touchdowns came on throws to a receiver in the slot. That’s not too surprising, given that he had 10 touchdown passes to receivers in the slot in the regular season, but it highlights how dangerous the Ravens’ passing offense was late in the year with a greater emphasis on finding players in the slot.

Throughout the regular season Boldin put up a modest 429 receiving yards and averaged 1.31 Yards Per Route Run (YPRR) from the slot. That was dwarfed by his postseason production which saw him pull in 14 receptions for 252 yards, including four touchdowns and a YPRR average of 2.83. That’s how important he was to the Ravens and their Super Bowl-winning run late in the year. So how do they go about replacing that production?

With the team balking at paying Boldin $6 million in 2013, it’s difficult to see them spending money on a high profile receiver like Wes Welker or Danny Amendola, although a move for a cheaper veteran like Brandon Stokley isn’t out of the question. With Peyton Manning throwing him the ball in Denver, Stokley lead all receivers with a catch rate of 80.4 percent while racking up 544 receiving yards and five touchdowns from the slot.

More likely, however, is that they will stay in-house and look to expand on tight end Dennis Pitta’s role. Pitta, a restricted free agent himself, quietly pulled in 75 receptions for 832 and 10 touchdowns in the regular season and playoffs in 2012, with just one of those touchdowns coming from a traditional tight end position. The 109 targets he saw a year ago saw him third on the team behind Boldin and Smith while his 1.76 YPRR from the slot in the regular season was behind only Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham among tight ends. Indeed, if Boldin was Flacco’s security blanket, Pitta was his favorite teddy bear with him routinely looking for the 2010 fourth round pick in the red zone.

What Next for Boldin?

If he is indeed to leave Baltimore, it’s tough to see Boldin struggling to find suitors for his services. He’ll be 33 in October but his play late in the year shows that he can upgrade most receiving corps in the league, even if it is on a short-term deal. Also, in what could be a nightmare scenario for the Ravens, two of the biggest rivals in terms of contenders in the AFC could be right at the top of the list.

New England Patriots

New England is potentially about to lose Welker, who was second to Boldin among wide receivers with 190 yards from the slot in the playoffs. The difference being that Boldin didn’t drop a single one of the 20 passes thrown to him from the slot in the playoffs, Welker dropped four on the same number of targets. Drops are nothing new to Welker, with the former undrafted free agent dropping 11.28 percent of the 133 catchable balls thrown his way in the regular season. In fact, since we began grading in 2008, Welker has dropped a whopping 62 passes, including 19 in 2012. Boldin on the other hand, has dropped just 27 passes in that same period and lead all receivers with a Drop Rate of just 2.99 in the regular season a year ago. Top all that off with Boldin’s performance against the Patriots in New England in the AFC Championship game, and it’s hard to see why they wouldn’t be interested.

Denver Broncos

While they were burned badly by Jones and Smith in their playoff loss to the Ravens, the Broncos are another team for whom Boldin would represent an upgrade. Bear in mind that Peyton Manning isn’t getting any younger, and that the window of opportunity for them isn’t getting any wider. Thus, it becomes apparent that Boldin is the perfect candidate for a team looking to find that player to put them over the top in 2013. They got tremendous production out of Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker a year ago, with the two combining to pull in 23 touchdowns and finish the regular season with Manning having a Quarterback Rating of 126.2 and 123.7 when targeting those two, respectively. Still, they combined to run just 153 routes from the slot and Boldin would definitely represent an upgrade over the free agent Stokley.

From Boldin’s perspective, either New England or Denver would be a great choice, given that he’d be catching passes from one of the best quarterbacks of all time, but even if neither of those teams come calling don’t expect him to be out of work for long. The Ravens may be playing a dangerous game where they hope to match any offer Boldin gets on the open market with the expectation that it’s lower than the $6 million he was due to receive in Baltimore in 2013, but if it doesn’t work out that way, they’ll have their work cut out for them replacing his all-around play.


Follow Gordon on Twitter: @PFF_Gordon

| Analyst, Lead Special Teams Analyst

Gordon has worked at PFF since 2011, and now heads up the company’s special teams analysis processes. His work in-season focuses on college football, while he is also heavily involved in PFF’s NFL draft coverage.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tom.downes.52 Tom Downes

    Could be Belichick is done with some of Welkers antics (foot soldiers press conference) and his untimely drops in huge games or he’s just letting Welker and his agent find out for themselves what his market really is. Boldin on the Pat’s would make this offense a little more vertical.

    • Ravens One

      I like the fit in New England also. Anquan Boldin would be an upgrade to both Welker and Brandon Lloyd, who’s lack of physicality is a problem when a critical catch has to be made. Boldin would push the Patriots closer to another Super Bowl. The situation bears watching.

      • RobDX

        What i found so strange about Lloyd last year, that was so un-Lloyd like. The guy is known for going up and making hard catches, seems like he refused last year.

        • Ravens One

          Lloyd got in New England and said ” why should I dive and lay it all out on the line, I’m just a rental anyway”. Lloyd is an outside the numbers WR. Tom Brady’s strength is inside the numbers at this stage of his career.

  • Ravens One

    Bad move by the Ravens FO. As far as Torrey Smith is concerned, what is Smith? A 7/8/9 route WR. Smith is an average route runner who has trouble adjusting to balls, has difficulty throttling down in/out of breaks, has problems getting off press, is a pure finesse player and takes plays off when he is asked to block in the run game. I think those that see Smith as a #1 WR capable of dominating week to week are fooling themselves. Smith is not consistently great at any one thing. Does Torrey Smith have a#1 WR mentality? A #1 WR’s has some D.A.W.G. in ‘em. Where is that in Torrey Smith’s game?

    It will be a huge mistake if Anquan Boldin is not on the 2013 roster. For all
    this talk about Boldin not having speed to get down the field, go look it up,
    Boldin had the most 20 plus yard plus plays on the team last year. Boldin led
    the team five times in receiving yards during the regular season and twice
    during the playoffs. Anquan Boldin took over games despite not being emphasized
    (that’s how it looks) in the game plans of Cam Cameron. We know what occurred
    when Jim Caldwell took the reigns as OC.

    The Ravens are wrong to play hardball with Anqaun Boldin? As Boldin has stated, ‘my play speaks for it’s self”.

    • [email protected]

      I don’t see a huge difference between Torrey Smith and Mike Wallace, a WR for whom the media is wet. Both have blazing speed, lack physicality, don’t adjust well to the ball mid-air, and struggle running more shallow routes. Either can take a 3 yard crossing route to the house at any time, just as either can juggle or drop a ball over the middle when looking for the hit.

      Do I think Torrey Smith is a number one receiver? Not now, but I think he can be. And do I think it’s a HUGE mistake if the Ravens can’t figure out the Anquan Boldin deal? Yes, absolutely.

      My main point is that you can draw many similarities between a guy who we’re saying can’t be a number one, and a guy many consider to be one of the top receivers in the league right now.

      As far as replacing Boldin is concerned, if he is in fact cut, I would expect the Ravens to expand Pitta’s role as this article points out. He’s more athletic than given credit for (see his two TD catches in the home loss to Denver and his TD catch and run against NE in the regular season), and is about as talented as any TE in the league save Gronk and Jimmy Graham. I would also expect more routes for Rice as I’ve always thought he could be used like Marshall Faulk in certian formations. Ozzie must also see someone in this draft who can eventually replace Boldin. Like he’s said before, it’s about building a team which can last, and that involves making moves which will pay off in the future.

      • Ravens One

        Agreed with a lot of your comment. Pitta is more H-back than TE to me. Gronk and Graham have “attitude”. I like Pitta. We will see if he can be more of a foundation piece to a passing game.

      • Ravens One

        Agreed with a lot of your comment. Pitta is more H-back than TE to me. Gronk and Graham have “attitude”. I like Pitta. We will see if he can be more of a foundation piece to a passing game.

  • wreceipt

    well 9ers just took a shot!