He was just never the best wide receiver in the league at any point during his admirable 14-year career. Boldin belongs in the hall of toughness, not in Canton.
For most of his time in Arizona, Boldin wasn’t the best receiver on the Cardinals. That was Larry Fitzgerald, who is undoubtedly a Hall of Fame player.
Still, quarterbacks never hesitated to throw the ball to Boldin when the game (or Super Bowl) was on the line, even if he was covered. Defensive backs grimaced at the task of trying to bring him down to the ground. And Boldin prided himself on holding on to the ball after the most brutal hits, one of which famously required seven plates and 40 screws to put his face back together.
Boldin’s imprint on the game goes beyond numbers and averages. But it’s those numbers that tell the story of a wide receiver who was very good yet falls short of being Hall of Fame-caliber.
Boldin finished in the top 10 in catches and receiving yards for only three seasons and not once after 2008. For over half of his career, he put up pedestrian figures. Boldin finished outside the top 20 in catches seven times and in receptions eight times.
It’s understandable how Boldin’s career can be viewed as a Hall of Fame one. His 13,779 yards receiving ranks 14th all time and are more than Art Monk, Steve Largent and Andre Reed — all of whom are in the Hall of Fame. His 1,076 receptions are ninth in league history.
Boldin became the fastest player in NFL history to reach 400 career receptions (67 games), 500 career receptions (80 games) and 600 career receptions (98 games). He set the league’s rookie record with 101 receptions and was named the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year in 2003.
In the 2012 postseason, the Ravens don’t capture the Lombardi Trophy without Boldin averaging 95 yards per game in the postseason and catching that third-and-inches pass in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. Quarterback Joe Flacco appropriately called Boldin “a beast.”
“I might bang the table for Anquan Boldin, because I think of all those guys, he gets the least respect for how great he is,” Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner told Pro Football Talk in February. “He wanted the ball in his hands, was a difference-maker. Everybody tries to get rid of him and he just goes, and he’s the No. 1 receiver on that next team. So I believe he’s the one who gets the least amount of respect, so I would love to get on the table for him.”
The stumbling block for Boldin is that he failed to dominate for an extended period. There wasn’t a time when someone said he was the unquestioned best receiver in the game. Boldin never led the NFL in catches or yards in any season (his highest finish was third in his first two seasons). He was only voted into three Pro Bowls and never made an All-Pro team.
What also works against Boldin the logjam at wide receiver. By the time he is eligible in 2022, Boldin will be competing against the likes of Calvin Johnson, Reggie Wayne, Andre Johnson and Steve Smith Sr. to get into the Hall.
Boldin is a champion. He is one of the league’s top humanitarians, winning the Walter Payton Man of the Year award in 2015. He is a hard-nosed playmaker who never thought twice about running over a safety or stiff-arming a linebacker if it meant gaining an extra yard.
Boldin will be remembered for how much passion he put into the game he loved. He just won’t be remembered as a Hall of Fame-caliber receiver.