Faceoff: Anquan Boldin
Mark Wimer: Joe Flacco enters his third NFL season as a rising NFL star, sporting an offense that has been re-stocked with talented targets during the offseason. This bodes well for the Ravens and their new weapons, as Flacco completed almost two-thirds of his passes last year (315/499 for 3,613 yards, 21 TDs and 12 interceptions - a 63.1% completion percentage).
The Ravens' highest-profile acquisition this year was wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who should step into the #1 wide receiver role on the team. Aided by skilled possession receiver Derrick Mason and deep threat Donte Stallworth at the #2 and #3 wide receiver positions on the depth chart, with the talented Todd Heap and Ray Rice threatening the opposition on short and intermediate routes, Boldin is in a position to thrive as defenses won't be able to "blanket" him with coverage.
While he was playing for Arizona, Boldin had two seasons with 100+ receptions (101/1,377/8 receiving during 2003, his rookie season, and then 102/1,402/7 receiving during 2005 - while playing second-fiddle to Larry Fitzgerald, who edged him by one reception for the team lead that season). Over the past two years, Boldin enjoyed 89/1,038/11 receiving and 85/1,025/5 receiving (he played in 12 games during 2008 and 15 last year) - while filling the second WR position for the pass-happy Cardinals.
Now, some might point out that the Ravens haven't passed the ball nearly as much as the Cardinals in recent years, but I would respond to that assertion with the folowing:
- Joe Flacco has been developing from raw rookie to seasoned veteran over the past two years.
- The Ravens aggressively reworked their wide reciever and tight end rosters for 2010
- Boldin was unhappy with his contract in Arizona the last two years, but is satisfied in Baltimore
- Boldin is the clear #1 wide receiver for the Ravens
While Joe Flacco may never put up the ball 594 times (as Kurt Warner did last season in Arizona), I wouldn't be surprised to see Flacco throw the ball well in excess of 500 times this year. During 2009, Mark Clayton and Kelley Washington each only caught 34 passes from Flacco to tie for #2 among wide receivers on the team - I do not expect to see similar numbers from the trio of Boldin, Mason and Stallworth.
In my opinion, Boldin should easily snag 90 receptions during 2010, with 100+ well within the realm of possibility for him. I think he's perhaps the best fantasy wide receiver among those that relocated into new surroundings this season - he has an excellent opportunity in front of him, and has already proven that he has the talent and drive to capitalize on that opportunity. I'll be happy to add Boldin to my redraft fantasy teams this year as the #1 wide receiver. The bonus here is that the relocation has caused his stock to be depressed - Boldin can probably be added as a #2 wide receiver in most drafts, which gives him considerable upside potential for his fantasy owners during 2010.
Andy Hicks: Anquan Boldin is one of my favorite players in the NFL, but for a number of reasons I feel his is a risky acquisition heading into the 2010 season.
- The history of high price receivers changing teams is not a good one. Instead of reciting the list of every receiver that didn't live up to expectations following a change of scenery, I'll just point to last season where T.J Houshmandzadeh was in a similar situation when he joined Seattle. Normally a productive, reliable upper echelon fantasy receiver, he ended up barely rating as a WR3 last season. Terrell Owens is another one from 2009 in the same boat. The first year is often one of building relationships, getting familiar with the coaching staff, a new quarterback etc. I am generally wary of spending a high draft pick on a guy who is at a new club, has a new offensive coordinator or has a new quarterback throwing the ball. Boldin has all three this year and while I will make certain exceptions, these generally won't occur until later draft picks. Boldin appears to be a solid gamble this year as a late WR2. Any earlier than that and you'll set yourself up for disappointment.
- One of the reasons I love watching Boldin is his fearless style of play. This unfortunately comes at a cost as Boldin has missed playing time in all but two seasons in his career to date and hasn't managed a full year since 2006. He will be at an age where his style of play will make it harder and harder to recover from his injuries. A significant risk factor has to be placed on Boldin when evaluating his prospects for any season going forward. I don't doubt the toughness of Boldin, just his inability to get through a full season.
- His level of touchdown production is sporadic - four last year and 11 the year before sums up his career to date. On a new side with a young QB and many other options for Baltimore in the receiving game, it is difficult to project Boldin as a WR1 without a significant portion coming from touchdowns.
- The other options as mentioned in the previous point. From a dearth of talent a few years ago Baltimore now have a lineup comprising perennial overachiever Derrick Mason, who has managed to develop a magnificent rapport with Joe Flacco, Mark Clayton and Donte Stallworth provide able support with Stallworth in particular having a lot to prove this season. At tight end, Todd Heap had his best year since 2006, and the Ravens drafted two further prospects in the 2010 draft. I also need to mention the running backs, in particular Ray Rice who almost registered 80 receptions in his debut season. There is a lot of talent around to share the ball. I don't see how a WR1 can emerge without significant injury or a much-improved season from Flacco. I don't doubt Flacco could do it, but I think we have to wait another season before we see Flacco reach a level near his eventual peak.
This is not the season to jump right in and take Boldin early. If he falls in drafts, sure take a chance, but I want to see him perform in his new environment and allay doubts I have on his ability to play a full season ever again.