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Nine years ago today, Anquan Boldin dominated Week 1

Even the mighty Lions couldn't stop Quan.

Nine years ago today, Anquan Boldin became a household name in his very first game. Boldin gained 217 receiving yards, the most in week 1 of an NFL season since Frank Clarke in 1962 and the most by any player in his first game.

It was as amazing was it was unexpected. Boldin was a second-round pick who had an solid college career but one tarnished by an ACL tear that caused him to miss his junior season and struggle at the Combine. He wasn’t even the highest wide receiver drafted by the Cardinals, who selected Bryant Johnson in round 1 despite the fact that he never won a college football game. No one had high expectations for the Arizona offense, with Jeff Blake at quarterback and Dave McGinnis as head coach; the Cardinals would ultimately end up last in the NFL in points scored. As an unheralded rookie on a bad team, Boldin wasn’t one of the top sixty wide receivers drafted in fantasy leagues, and probably wasn’t even among the top 100. That makes his production even more incredible.

The table below lists the best fantasy performances by wide receivers in week 1 of the NFL since 2000, with 1 point per reception, 0.1 points per receiving yards, and 6 points per touchdown. The “Exp” column shows the experience level of the receiver; the last column shows the player’s Average Draft Position among wide receivers, if in the top sixty.

Wide ReceiverTmOppYearExpRecYdRTDLngFPADP
Anquan BoldinARIDET2003R1021727143.7--
Plaxico BurressNYGDAL20078814436040.417
Steve SmithCARARI201111817827737.832
Quincy MorganCLEKAN20022915124436.1--
Wes WelkerNWEMIA20118816029936.016
Larry FitzgeraldARINYG200521315513034.519
Chad OchocincoCINNWE2010101215912833.916
Marty BookerCHIMIN20024819815433.822
David BostonARINYG20002912822533.833
Austin CollieINDHOU201021116317333.351
Randy MossNWENYJ200710918315133.315
Keenan McCardellSDGDAL200514912322033.337
Terrell OwensPHINYG2004986832032.84
Jimmy SmithJAXPIT20018812623432.613
Reggie WayneINDJAX200991016213932.25
Jimmy SmithJAXSEA200512713024532.024
Chris ChambersMIAHOU20033711825730.829
Kenny BrittTENJAX20113513628030.626
Miles AustinDALWAS201051014613030.66
Reggie WayneINDNOR20077711524530.55
Hines WardPITBAL2003699122830.17
Randy MossMINGNB20036915012730.03

And because I know you’re curious: Kevin Ogletree scored 31.4 FP against the Giants on Wednesday night, with 8 catches for 114 yards and 2 scores, and Ogletree’s ADP was outside of the top 80.

But back to Boldin, who used his initial performance as a catapult to an incredible rookie season. Boldin’s 1,377 yards remain the 2nd highest in NFL history, behind only Bill Groman’s 1,473 yards in the AFL’s inaugural season. He became the first receiver to catch 100 passes as a rookie, and nobody has come very close to matching that mark since. He scored 8 touchdowns, more than double the amount of any other Cardinal that season. With the likely exception of Randy Moss’ 1998 performance, Boldin had the best rookie season by a wide receiver ever.

A knee injury sidelined Boldin for the first six games of his second season. He would still wind up leading the league in targets per game in 2004, and caught 47 passes over the last 8 games. In 2005, Boldin caught 102 passes for 1,402 yards and 7 TDs in 14 games, and led the NFL in receiving yards per game. In 2006, his numbers dropped with Matt Leinart starting, but Boldin made his second Pro Bowl and gained another 1200 yards. In 2007 and 2008 injuries would strike, limiting him to 12 games and 11 starts each season. Still, Boldin’s per game numbers remained excellent, and he scored 20 touchdowns; he had another solid season in 2009, at the age of 29, although by then it appeared that Boldin’s physical style of play had begun to take a toll on his body.

Boldin entered the league at age 23, and his first seven seasons were incredible, especially on a per-game basis. When looking at receivers, I occasionally use something I call Adjusted Catch Yards, which starts with receiving yards and then gives players 5 yards for every reception and 20 yards for every touchdown.1 The table below shows every receiver with at least 100 ACY per game through their first seven seasons:

Lance Alworth82394797373114034.897.20.89139.1
Randy Moss109574914290138125.383.90.83126.7
Marvin Harrison108665880073135856.281.50.68125.8
Jerry Rice108526907293135624.9840.86125.6
Torry Holt110619948754136625.686.20.49124.2
Lionel Taylor8250864244398246.278.30.52119.8
Anquan Boldin95586752044113306.279.20.46119.3
Art Powell8440566436699884.879.10.79118.9
Larry Fitzgerald108613820465125695.7760.6116.4
Andre Johnson102587794842117235.877.90.41114.9
Isaac Bruce93476729950106795.178.50.54114.8
Calvin Johnson7636658724986824.877.30.64114.2
Chad Johnson108559836549121405.277.50.45112.4
Sterling Sharpe112595813465124095.372.60.58110.8
Marques Colston8644962404894455.272.60.56109.8
Terrell Owens106512747072114704.870.50.68108.2
Herman Moore104528748452111645.1720.5107.3
Gary Clark106485783053113154.673.90.5106.7
Del Shofner7629555944880293.973.60.63105.6
Bob Hayes9132166176795623.572.70.74105.1
Jimmy Smith954726887369967572.50.38104.9
Charley Hennigan9541068235198934.371.80.54104.1
Greg Jennings8838961714990964.470.10.56103.4
Brandon Marshall9149462473493975.468.60.37103.3
Kellen Winslow8142454943783545.267.80.46103.1
Michael Irvin9641669354098154.372.20.42102.2
Keyshawn Johnson109558733645110265.167.30.41101.2
Andre Rison110522715463110244.7650.57100.2

Putting aside Lionel Taylor who was a receptions machine on a bad Broncos team in the early days of the AFL, Boldin is only behind some very impressive names. Boldin was a monster when healthy for the Cardinals, but suffered a bit with injuries and languished on several bad teams. And he didn’t always have good quarterback play: of his 95 games in Arizona, Kurt Warner was the starter for only 47 of them. Interestingly enough, though, Boldin produced regardless of who was the quarterback:

Kurt Warner476.6830.55
Josh McCown186.3740.39
Matt Leinart154.7660.27
Jeff Blake115.6880.55
John Navarre26.5910.50
Shaun King27.0810.00

Anquan Boldin's kyrptonite.

Part of the reason Boldin’s numbers weren’t higher with Warner is that Larry Fitzgerald was there for 46 of the 47 Warner games, whose presence slightly suppressed Boldin’s numbers.2 But Boldin’s production with subpar quarterbacks is impressive.

For awhile, it looked like Boldin was one of the game’s best and a potential future Hall of Famer. His production in his first seven years was incredible. It’s true that Boldin started at age 23, and if you examined receivers from age 23 to 29 (instead of looking at receivers by experience level), Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, and Isaac Bruce would pass him in ACY/G, although he’d move back ahead of Harrison. But in any event, at his peak, he compares favorably to some of the best receivers of the last two decades.

Unfortunately, since going to Baltimore, Boldin has gone from one of the game’s best playmakers to the third most valuable offensive player on a defensive team. Boldin had the worst statistical season of his career on a per-game basis in 2010, and only rebounded slightly in 2011. It doesn’t appear likely that Boldin has any more elite seasons left, and I doubt history will be very kind to Boldin. But I’ll always remember him as a fearless receiver with Hall of Fame run-after-the-catch ability and for being one of the toughest and most dominant players in the league during his prime. He first flashed that nine years ago today.

  1. You can — and should — quibble with the weights, but in any event I prefer ACY to any of the three underlying stats on their own. At some point, I plan to finalize exactly what I think the weights should be. []
  2. Once you adjust for the quality of quarterback. Boldin’s numbers with and without Fitzgerald are nearly identical: 6.2 R/G, 78 Y/G and 0.5 TD/G with Fitzgerald and 6.2 R/G, 82 Y/G and 0.5 TD/G without Fitzgerald. But Warner was there for 46 of the 75 games where both Fitzgerald and Boldin were together, whereas Warner was there for just 1 of the 20 games Boldin played without Fitzgerald. Boldin’s numbers with both Warner and Fitzgerald: 46 games, 6.7 R/G, 84 Y/G, 0.6 TD/G; Boldin’s numbers with a different QB and Fitzgerald: 29 games, 5.3 R/G, 70 Y/G, 0.3 TD/G. So it was the presence of Warner for a large percentage of the Fitzgerald games that kept Boldin’s numbers appear constant both with and without Fitzgerald. []
  • Richie

    I vaguely remember a stat about the Cardinals before the 2003 season. I think they had let David Boston go the year before, and they entered the 2003 season with no WR on the roster with more than 54 career receptions. I had no idea who Boldin was at that time.

    In regards to the 5-yard bonus for WR, either I forgot about, or never read, your post from 2009. (I didn’t comment on that post, so I’m guessing I never read it. I thought I had read every PFR post.) Anyway, that led me to drill down to a 2007 post from Doug explaining the logic of the 5-yard bonus (Doug used 6 yards) per reception. I’m still a little dubious of its value, but here was his explanation:

    Why the six-yard bonus for each reception? The theory is that, given two players with the same number of yards, the one with more catches probably had more third-down catches. And third-down catches are more valuable than other catches because they keep drives alive.