Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Why Is Anquan Boldin So Underrated?

On Sunday, as I watched the 49ers take down the Panthers, I left the game thinking a few things. 
  1. There is something really obnoxious about Colin Caepernick. Maybe, it’s that he is desperately seeking approval all of the time. Or maybe, it's that obnoxious, frat boy smile that he is always sporting.
  2. The 49ers defense is awesome (need I say more?).
  3. Anquan Boldin is severely underrated.
For some reason, the Anquan Boldin thing has stuck with me all week. I mean I can’t stop thinking about what bad mother this dude is. Every year, every playoff run, this guy is in the mix making big catches and putting up 100 yard games. But, every time that I hear a “Who’s the best receiver in football discussion,” I never hear Boldin’s name brought up. Why is that? The answer is: it boils down to a few strange circumstances that have somehow diminished his legacy.

The first problem that comes up when assessing Boldin’s career is the pesky injury bug. Boldin’s injuries- which primarily affected the first half of his career- were never too severe. They weren’t even enough to keep him off of the field for very long. So why am I mentioning it? Well, it's because they have come at the most inopportune times.

During the first half of Boldin’s career, he played for the Arizona Cardinals and one of the most dangerous passing teams of the past decade. And when people think of this team, they mostly think of Larry Fitzgerald being the primary threat, but hold on. That wasn’t always the case.

Boldin came out one year earlier than Fitzgerald, and during his rookie year, he had over 1350 yards. The next year, Fitzgerald was a rookie and Boldin was hurt for 6 games. This allowed Fitzgerald to slide into the number 1 slot for a few games, but he still didn’t come close to Boldin’s rookie numbers (780 yards vs. 1377). In fact, Fitzgerald didn’t out produce Boldin in yards per game until 3 years later after Boldin had sat out a significant amount of games in back to back years. If Boldin would have never had those untimely injuries, I’m not so sure he would have ever relinquished the number one receiver position.

In the second half of Boldin’s career, a new set of circumstances have diminished his rep: playing on non-passing teams. For the past 4 years, he’s played for the Ravens and the 49ers. They’re both contenders, but they are both run heavy-defensive teams. Because of this, Boldin has only had one 1,000 yard season during that time. Yikes. That will sink anybody’s claim for being the best receiver in football.

But, this lack of production is not his fault. Over the past few years, great receivers like Randy Moss and Calvin Johnson and Reggie Wayne have all played for teams that do nothing but pass. Of course, they are going to look better on paper, especially regular season paper. But for some reason, deep in the playoffs, they don’t have the same intimidation factor as Boldin.

That’s because in the playoffs, the games naturally slow down and openings down field diminish. Boldin performs anyway; in fact, he is the best playoff receiver over the past 5 seasons. He's been in multiple Super Bowls, had clutch 100 yards games, and made all of the big catches (just like he did on Sunday). He possesses the physicality and the speed and the strength to succeed in the toughest conditions when nobody else can.

So, the next time you and your buddies are having a “Who’s the best receiver in football discussion”, don’t sell Boldin short. He’s had a strange career, but one thing is for sure: when it counts, the guy is money.

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