Friday, March 12, 2010

What the Ravens Got in Boldin

With the Ravens recent acquisition of Anquan Boldin, many have said the Ravens are better, having addressed their biggest need. But you also hear a good bit about what a risk the Ravens are taking, counting on a receiver soon to be 30, oft injured and coming where his production may have been bolstered by a stellar quarterback and top flight receiver across from him.

While it’s true that this isn’t a no-risk move for the Ravens – receivers, upon moving teams, underperform to expectations more than they overperform – the risks aren’t overly significant. And the reward could be tremendous.

The injury concerns
For all the concerns about how he's frequently injured and fragile and Ravens fans should be concerned about him missing time, Boldin actually averages 13.5 games played per season. He's only played in 16 games twice, but he's also only played less than 12 games once, his second season.

The production as a result of his circumstances vs. his talent
Despite the criticism that he's hurt every year and he's more productive playing in the offense in which he's played, the reality is that he's one of the best receivers drafted this decade. But there are some that have claimed he wouldn't be nearly as productive without Warner as his QB and Fitz playing by his side.

But there are serious flaws with such an assertion. First, Warner hasn't always been his QB. He's produced well with Blake, McCown and Leinart. In fact, his most productive season, 2005, was one in which McCown threw 40% of the passes; and Warner, who threw most of the rest, boasted only an 85.8 QB rating, his lowest as a Cardinal and second lowest in any season in which he threw more than 150 passes.

Second, he’s produced without Fitzgerald playing along side him. His rookie season was one of his most productive, while Fitzgerald was still a Pitt Panther. In 2006, in three games that Fitzgerald missed, he averaged 80 yards per game.

And finally, playing along-side a great wide receiver does not make you a great receiver by default. Look at one of the best receivers in the league, Andre Johnson, as a great example of this. No one playing along side him has ever had 900 receiving yards, and only one – Walter in ’08 – has had over 700 receiving yards. Marques Coltson has yet to see a consistently producing receiver across the hash marks from him. Others include the Panther’s Steve Smith, Dwayne Bowe, Roddy White and Vincent Jackson. A receiver doesn’t simply become productive when playing across from another great receiver.

The performance
Meanwhile, Boldin’s performance truly has been one of the more underrated in the league, despite the fact that he's very highly respected. In the past 15 years, 183 receivers have been drafted and have caught more than 50 passes in the NFL. The list includes guys like Marvin Harrison, Randy Moss, Andre Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald. Here’s how Boldin stacks up against all 182 of them, according to Pro-Football-Reference.
- No one has more receptions per game at 6.17 per.
- No one has more yards per game at 79.16 per. #2 on the list - Andre Johnson - is more than a yard per game behind him. #5 on the list - Marques Colston - is nearly 8 yards per game behind him.
- Only 8 players have scored more TDs per game at 0.463 per.
- Only 4 players have more total receptions per season.
- Only 7 players have more total yards per season.
- He is #17 overall in TDs per season.
- Only one season has he had fewer than 71 YPG, and has never had fewer than 5 rec/game..

The bottom line
The bottom line is, you don’t put up the fabulous productivity numbers that Boldin has put up without having exceptional talent. The Ravens are getting one of the most productive receivers in the NFL, and in fact, the most productive receiver in the NFL when healthy. This must be tempered with the expectation that he will likely miss some games over the next few years. But in the games in which he plays, Ravens fans should expect he is the significant upgrade at the position for which they’ve been begging.


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