Anquan Boldin Is a Great Fit With the Buffalo Bills
Season 15. pic.twitter.com/4DKyxQTeZM
— Anquan Boldin (@AnquanBoldin) August 7, 2017
A Much Needed Option
During Tyrod Taylor's tenure as the starting quarterback for the Bills, he hasn’t been afraid to sling it downfield. Last year, the average Taylor pass traveled 9.8 yards in the air, which was the seventh-highest mark for quarterbacks in 2016. That strategy works when everything is on point.
Watkins knows how to get open down the field, and his average depth of target (aDOT) last season was 14.6 yards, which ranked 15th among 93 receivers. Even Robert Woods, who was the so-called possession receiver in the Buffalo offense, had an aDOT of 11.3, ranking him 49th.
When things aren't clicking, though, inefficiencies abound, as seen by our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric.
In 2015 it clicked as Taylor was 10th among quarterbacks in Passing NEP per drop back. There was a bit of a drop off in 2016, however, as Taylor ranked 19th. Still, his Passing NEP per drop back output in 2016 was better than the likes of Philip Rivers, Ryan Tannehill, and Carson Wentz. We also discussed during the course of last season that despite the drop in efficiency, Taylor wasn’t Buffalo’s biggest problem.
What Boldin brings is a legitimate safety net, which Taylor hasn’t had with the Bills. Last year with the Detroit Lions, Boldin had a 6.6 aDOT, which was 89th of those aforementioned 93 receivers. But Boldin was efficient enough in the quick-hitting West Coast Cooterball offense, ranking 29th in Reception NEP per target among the 60 wideouts with at least 80 targets.
In that short passing game, Boldin also built up a catch rate of 70.5 percent, which was 15th-best among those receivers. He’ll give Taylor a short, simple option in the passing game.
That also helps because the Bills’ offensive line struggled with pass protection last season. Per Football Outsiders' charting, Buffalo allowed the third-highest rate of offensive pressure in the league, despite being a good run-blocking line. That pressure -- mixed with the deep routes and athleticism of Taylor -- caused him to have the highest average time to throw in the league, per the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, at 3.12 seconds.
Having that quick option in the passing game helped Matthew Stafford with his efficiency last season -- we're talking 10th in Passing NEP per drop back -- and while the Bills won’t mimic Detroit's offense, having one option like Bolding should be of great help to Taylor.
Having Boldin in the lineup will likely bump rookie Zay Jones back down into a more manageable third receiver role, and there’s also more protection should Watkins have to miss time again this season.
Red Zone Boost
Boldin’s biggest asset last season might have been his work in the red zone. His 23 targets inside the 20-yard-line ranked third in the league last season. His 0.96 Reception NEP per target in that area trailed only Michael Crabtree among 12 players with at least 20 red zone looks.
Last season the red zone was a wasteland for the Bills through the air. Charles Clay led the team with 14 targets (26.4 percent target share) inside the 20. He was tied with Justin Hunter -- yes, you read that correctly -- in red zone touchdowns with three. Taylor ran in the red zone (17 attempts) more than he threw to any one player.
The Bills were a good red zone team in 2016 -- they ranked fifth in points per red zone trip and touchdowns per red zone trip -- but that was almost completely reliant on the running game. Buffalo was almost twice as good on the ground as they were throwing the ball inside the 20. In the red zone, the Bills had a Passing NEP per play of 0.16 and a Rushing NEP per play of 0.33. They more than doubled the touchdown production -- 25 on the ground to 11 in the air.
Boldin might not get 20 red zone targets again, but just his presence alone should help give the Bills a legitimate receiving threat to keep the defense from focusing on the ground game near the goal line.
The Bills might not be the type of contending team many imagined Boldin may want to hitch onto this late in his career, but he gives the squad exactly what it was missing on offense. If the offense clicks again like it did in 2015 and there’s defensive consistency under Sean McDermott, maybe this team could contend for a Wild Card spot.
Our initial projections give them a 32 percent chance of making the playoffs. But if not, there’s still a chance Boldin performs as well as he did in 2016, and this might not be his last hurrah.