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Senior NFL Columnist

Anquan Boldin's declining speed made him expendable

I spent much of Monday afternoon arguing with fans and many of my peers on the merits of Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin.

I said he was old and slow and made too much dough and had to go. That's why he was traded to the 49ers for a sixth-round pick.

The anger that came my way was nasty, and several of my peers jumped into the fray. But guess what? It's what I believe. I think Boldin is the best receiver in NFL history at catching passes when he is not open. His inability to separate because of a lack of speed has forced him to evolve into a receiver who uses his hands and his body to make catches.

He does both of those things well. The problem is this is a league about separation. And when a slow receiver gets slower -- it happens with each year of abuse a player puts on his body -- it becomes a problem.

Boldin had a big postseason for the Ravens, and played a big part in their winning the Super Bowl. But he made some big plays without separation and the tape shows a lot of routes where he got none. The Ravens will use tight end Dennis Pitta a lot more to offset the loss of Boldin.

Two of Boldin's longest plays of the postseason came when he was covered and made a play on a ball thrown up by Joe Flacco.

Here's a look at one against the Colts for 50 yards. Flacco had to scramble out of the pocket and threw one up to two receivers in the area, and Boldin, who is in the yellow circle, made a great play to jump up and catch the pass. But he wasn't open on the play at all -- and it was a prayer. You can't count on those all the time.

Here's another big play for Boldin, a 25-yard catch against the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. Boldin was in man coverage against backup corner Marquice Cole. That's because Aqib Talib, who blanketed him in the early part of the game, was lost for the game with a hamstring injury. Cole did a nice job running with Boldin on this play, but Boldin made a nice adjustment to catch the football. He wasn't open.

That's the thing about Boldin. For much of his career, Boldin has caught a ton of passes without getting open. That's what he does. But he's slowing and, despite the postseason success in terms of numbers, he just isn't as good as some think. Don't look back when evaluating, look ahead. The 49ers already have receivers who aren't fast. For a sixth-round pick, it makes sense. But at $6 million, it does not.

 
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