Anquan Boldin had an amazing NFL career, but not Hall of Fame amazing
A backlog of worthy receivers and lack of dominance may keep Boldin out, at least for a while
Anquan Boldin, after 14 NFL seasons, leaves the NFL with an incredibly gritty resume. A second-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals in 2003, Boldin came into the NFL as a No. 2 receiver to Larry Fitzgerald. Since then, he played for the Ravens, the 49ers and the Lions, before retiring after 13 days with the Bills. Now the question everyone will be asking is: Is grittiness and Boldin's statistical case enough to get into the Hall of Fame?
I'm just going to come out and say it: It's unlikely, and there's almost no chance of him getting in on the first ballot. Boldin is a prime candidate for the Hall of Very Good and, as Jamison Hensley writes, he deserves a shrine in the Hall of Toughness. The Hall of Fame, however, is a different beast for a number of reasons. Boldin is a bubble nominee in one of the most backlogged positions for the Hall. Terrell Owens and Isaac Bruce remain out but not far from the conversation. Boldin will be eligible in 2022, one year after Calvin Johnson and two years after Reggie Wayne. There are, to be frank, too many great receivers in today's NFL for all of them to get in.
One thing that Boldin was more than nearly any other receiver was steady. Even in his last four years, he missed only two games. Although his 100-reception seasons were a thing of the past, he came into every new offense that signed him and assimilated into his role seamlessly. With the Lions last year he was a third down maestro, with Marvin Jones and Golden Tate doing the brunt of the work in the passing game. In San Francisco, Boldin was out there to grind. Teammates, of course, took notice of Boldin's attitude and his willingness to help the team.
Tyrann Mathieu's photo and caption encapsulates Boldin's career well. He went out to punish defenses. He's leaving the NFL as a receiver that is seemingly universally respected by his peers. He wanted to punish defenses for having the audacity to play against him. Although he may have never been "the guy," he was the guy that defenses dreaded facing. Boldin wasn't flashy, he didn't put up gaudy stats, but he didn't have to. He just needed to abuse defenses.
With that being said, it's not impossible that he makes it into Canton if the receiver backlog ever clears up. Boldin is 14th in NFL history in receptions -- higher than several Hall of Famers (Art Monk being a compelling one due the similarity in their roles). If it was players that voted players in, Boldin would be in in a second. Respect for him is universal. He's the perfect guy to teach players how to carry themselves and be professionals at rookie symposiums.
Furthermore, one thing that the NFL as a whole loves is community contribution, something that Boldin has done in spades throughout his career. He won the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award in 2015. It's a good thing he and Benjamin Watson didn't both play on Ravens last year, because Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti may have broken himself trying to decide who should get nominated (and as it were, Steve Smith ended up getting nominated, another Hall of Fame candidate).
Boldin has all of the intangibles on his side, no one would ever question that. Universal respect, a stellar off-the-field record and, of course, one sterling Super Bowl appearance with the Ravens in which he had over 100 yards receiving and a touchdown. He demands consideration, and respect. His name, however, isn't one that's always carried a ton of weight with fans. Fitzgerald, who is undoubtedly a future Hall of Famer, was always "the guy" in Arizona, and those were Boldin's most dominant years. His numbers dropped off in Baltimore, and he had some nice seasons in San Francisco, but never had more than 85 catches away from the Cardinals.
It would be foolish to question Boldin's legacy, but it's the harsh reality of today's NFL: With today's passing game and the receivers of yesteryear, receivers need to have dominated throughout their career to get into the Hall. Isaac Bruce being passed over is proof of that -- Torry Holt probably infringed on his bid too -- and there will be more and more examples of it in the near future. Boldin, however, will always have the respect of his peers and a Super Bowl win. Those two things stand paramount to NFL players, and he earned both of them 1,000 times over.
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