Anquan Boldin to the 49ers: Good Fit, Average Impact
Growing up, I lived in All-America Suburbia, with my house on the end of a cul-de-sac and everything. There were four other boys on the block my age: two just a year older, and a pair of twins who were two years younger. And whenever I'd be rewarded with a new Hot Wheels track or baseball bat or Razor scooter or anything that had any smidgen of coolness factor, I'd bet good money that within a week, one of the other boys would have the same type of toy (only Newer! and Better!). Infuriating doesn't adequately cover it.
That's why I can easily sympathize with Seahawks fans when, just a few hours after their Big Offseason Splash, their NFC West neighbors respond with one of their own. And wouldn't you know it, it's the same type of shiny new toy: a wide receiver for their young quarterback to play with. Only this time, the wide receiver has a shiny Super Bowl Champion sticker on the handlebars and a proven ability to not break down.
Be warned, though. I have a bias towards the original. And this time, the stats back me up.
Boldin by the Numbers
Harvin and Boldin are two completely different types of receivers. As I mentioned earlier, Harvin is a catch-and-run receiver, resulting in higher catch rates and a lower yards per catch average. Boldin, meanwhile, was the slot guy for the Ravens. He wasn't a big play threat like Torrey Smith, but he ran his share of deep routes as well. Boldin ranked 37th in the NFL last season in deep routes according to AdvancedNFLStats.com, with 29.1 percent of throws his way coming at 15 yards or longer.
But has he really been that efficient? Over the past three seasons in Baltimore, Boldin has had Joe Flacco's $100+ million arm throwing long passes to him. However, it hasn't resulted in high value added to the Ravens.
In order to figure out Boldin's value, I looked at our Net Expected Points (NEP) figure. Just like the name would have you believe, this stat measures how many expected points above or below the league-average play that a player has gained his team. For receivers, this can be measured both as a function of catches (if they don't catch the ball, the play isn't charged to the receiver) and targets (as long as the ball goes their way, it counts). Alongside NEP/catch (NEP per catch) and a receiver's catch rate (the number of balls thrown his way actually caught), we can figure out just how much value a player brings to a team.
|Year||GP||Receptions||Targets||Receiving NEP (Catches)||Receiving NEP (Targets)||NEP/Catch||Catch Rate|
His catch rate has sat slightly below the league-average 60 percent for a while, but that's to be expected considering the deep routes that Flacco likes to throw. What is surprising, though, is that Boldin's NEP per catch rate isn't in turn super high. 49 receivers finished with at least 50 receptions last season. 20 of them finished with a higher NEP per catch rate than Boldin's 0.80. Especially when 27 of them finished with a higher catch rate as well, the combination places Boldin right at league-average efficiency among the top 50 NFL receivers.
With that in mind, it begs to be asked whether Boldin is really that much more of a playmaker than, say, Mario Manningham? Michael Crabtree already holds down the Big Play Threat position in San Francisco; his 0.89 NEP per catch and 67 percent catch rate means that he isn't going anywhere any time soon. Manningham, however, will likely open the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list and is ripe to have his job taken if the 2012 stats are any indication.
|Name||GP||Receptions||Targets||Receiving NEP (Catches)||Receiving NEP (Targets)||NEP/Catch||Catch Rate|
What we have here is a difference in offensive strategies. With Crabtree already the big play threat, the Niners could afford to run Manningham short. This is accurately reflected in his 0.50 NEP per catch stat, one of the lowest such marks in the NFL. His catch rate might have been higher, but he wasn't going that far down the field.
Remember, though, that most of those games for Manningham came with Alex Smith at quarterback. Smith threw only 13.2 percent of his passes at 15 yards or longer, the lowest such percentage among qualified quarterbacks in the NFL. That contrasts nicely with Colin Kaepernick, who threw an absurd 29.9 percent of his passes deep in his 16 games, including playoffs.
As such, Boldin may actually be a better fit for the San Francisco offense than what a non-injured Manningham would provide. With his ability to run deeper routes, he provides yet another target for Kaepernick downfield. Now only if he could get that catch rate up...
After seeing Manningham's stats from last season, the question becomes: will Boldin be able to coexist with Crabtree in the 49ers offense?
It shouldn't be a problem for the existing receiver. With his own 67 percent catch rate and 0.89 NEP per catch in tact, I don't see Crabtree switching roles any time soon. That catch rate proves he can handle the role and still likely make plays. Plus, with his Kaepernick Konnection already established, he may be less amiable to return to the role of short-yardage guy that he held for so many years with Alex Smith. I expect the status quo there.
And that leaves it down to the New Guy. Boldin has only topped a 60 percent catch rate four times in his ten season career; he most recently accomplished the feat in 2009. Only in Kurt Warner's final three seasons ('07-09) did Boldin show any semblance of becoming a high-catch-rate receiver, topping 66 percent catch rate in each one of those years. That's what San Francisco would require in this offense; only Randy Moss finished with a catch rate under 66 percent among the 49ers' main receivers last season.
Could he get back to those Arizona days? Possibly. However, his lack of recent catching ability makes this one less-than-perfect. A good fit? Sure. A valiant effort? Yup. Certainly worth the sixth-round pick? I'd say. But this isn't the same level as Seattle's pick up of Percy Harvin, the value just isn't there.