The 5: Best traits of Anquan Boldin the wide receiver
Anquan Boldin’s retirement puts an end to a football career that spanned four teams — and part of this season’s training camp with the Buffalo Bills.
It included a historic rookie campaign for the Arizona Cardinals, a Super Bowl win with the Baltimore Ravens and successful seasons with the 49ers and Lions as his career waned.
The Cardinals’ No. 54 overall pick in 2003 believes the time is right for him to use his platform for a cause beyond the football field. That he’ll attempt to become a voice for civil rights is no surprise considering his giving, thoughtful attitude that won him the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award just a few seasons ago.
But NFL fans will miss his passion.
Debate all you will about where he ranks among the best receivers ever — former Arizona QB Kurt Warner will fight for his Hall of Fame candidacy — what are not debatable are the traits that put him in the conversation.
Here are the five things that made Boldin in the conversation for the HOF.
On Sept. 28, 2008, Boldin leapt to make a catch against the New York Jets when he got wedged between defenders and took a vicious hit to the face.
It took seven plates and 40 metal screws to repair a fractured sinus membrane. He missed just two games.
Returning a month later, he was the same receiver. Boldin would catch no fewer than five balls over the remaining eight regular season games, including six touchdowns, before helping Arizona make a postseason run that ended with a 27-23 loss to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLIII.
In 14 seasons, Boldin only failed to play 12 regular season games once. He appeared in just 10 games during his second season (2004) but never fewer.
Never the speediest wideout who could separate from defenders, nor one who was going to consistently out-leap a defensive back for a jump ball, Boldin made his living turning incompletions into catches with his incredible one-handed grabs and adjustments mid-route.
With the Cardinals, it wasn’t uncommon for Warner to put the ball well out of reach of any defensive backs in the area and just far close enough to Boldin to adjust for the catch.
Few receivers had quite the same catch radius as Boldin. No matter where the ball was thrown — right in his chest or just within his reach — the numbers show he was as steady as they come.
Shiftiness with size
Do you call it shiftiness? Power? Quickness?
Whether he was in his route, repositioning himself to make a tough grab or fighting for extra yards after the catch, Boldin was a master of using his 6-foot-1, 220 pound frame against defenders. Within small spaces, his ability to get his big body to react so quickly was impressive.
Once he made a catch, he was always able to gain an extra two yards by putting his bowling ball frame into creases and another two more by shouldering into defenders attempting to make the tackle.
Where’d it show up in the numbers?
After Larry Fitzgerald and Wes Welker, no player had more yards after catch (3,495) than Boldin since 2008, per Pro Football Focus. We’d assume if those stats were available beyond that season, his early portion of his career with the Cardinals wouldn’t knock him down any pegs in that regard.
Boldin might have been Option 1B behind Larry Fitzgerald when the Cardinals made their Super Bowl run in 2008, but he received more targets (12 to eight) than Fitzgerald in the loss to Pittsburgh and caught eight balls for 84 yards.
But Boldin only got better with age. He made three playoff runs with the Ravens culminating in a four-game run that included four touchdown grabs and a Super Bowl win in 2012. In that game against the 49ers, he caught six balls for 104 yards along with a touchdown.
All-in-all, Boldin’s teams made the playoffs in six of his 14 seasons.
An ultimate teammate
Even as Fitzgerald’s rise perhaps overshadowed his value to the point the Cardinals might have undervalued him, Boldin never wavered as a teammate.
And as of last week, he made it clear he appreciated a drama-free life. Boldin was never a locker-room trouble-maker or a distraction.
After playing by far his worst season in 2016 with Detroit, his decision to suddenly drop out of the Bills’ plans was viewed as a huge blow to the team lacking much at receiver to begin with.
The Bills didn’t take the abrupt change of plans bitterly.