Three years ago someone asked me if Anquan Boldin was a Hall-of-Famer waiting to happen. I said, "No," and that ended the conversation. But now that Anquan Boldin is retired and his resume complete, the question has been raised again … and this time the answer isn’t so easy.
Except it’s still no.
Look, Anquan Boldin was a terrific receiver who was reliable, sure-handed, consistent and tough. He was the guy Joe Flacco trusted for that all-important completion on third-and-1 on the game-clinching drive in Super Bowl XLVII. What’s more, he did what some other receivers can’t or won’t … which is block.
But he was never really a No. 1 receiver where he was. Larry Fitzgerald was that guy in Arizona, and there really wasn’t one in Baltimore, where the Ravens relied more on Ray Rice’s legs and a suffocating defense.
Furthermore, he wasn’t an all-decade choice, and, yes, that’s a consideration. Every all-decade wide receiver from the 1980s and 1990s is in the Hall, yet even that’s not a guarantee. Drew Pearson was first-team all-decade in the 1970s, and he’s not in Canton – the only member of that first-team offense not included. According to our Rick Gosselin, there are 92 all-decade choices from the 1920s up through the 1990s not in the Hall, with 80 of them never discussed as finalists.
So there’s traffic to navigate. But that's not all. Boldin never led the league in catches, yards receiving or touchdowns, and, like it or not, that’s a consideration, too.
Supporters point to Boldin’s career numbers, and they should. He’s ninth all-time in catches, 14th in yards receiving and 23rd in touchdown receptions – and, no question, they make him a candidate worthy of consideration. He also set NFL records for most receptions by a rookie (101) and fastest to 200, 300, 400 and 500 catches. They make him a candidate for consideration, too.
But we’re living in a pass-happy age where receivers produce such inflated numbers that Wes Welker had 100 or more catches in five of six seasons ... leading the league three of those years ... and where 12 players last year had 90 or more catches each and 25 had 1,000 or more yards receiving. That’s not to denigrate Boldin’s accomplishments; it’s simply to put them in context.
Then there’s this: History. Former star receiver Billy Howton broke all of Don Hutson’s records in Green Bay and, when he retired, was the league’s all-time leading receiver and leader in yards receiving. You know what that got him? Not much.
He’s not only not in Canton; he’s never been discussed.
Sterling Sharpe was a five-time All-Pro in a seven-year career cut short by injury, and in 1992 he won the Triple Crown of receiving (catches, yards receiving and TD catches). He had 108 receptions that year, breaking Art Monk’s single-season record of 84, and one year later broke his own record with 112. He followed that in 1994 with a league-leading 18 TD catches in 1994, then the second-most in NFL history.
So where has that gotten him? Same place as Howton. Never been discussed.
And what about Cliff Branch? He was a four-time All-Pro who in 1974 led the league in catches and yards receiving and who two years later averaged … averaged … 24.2 yards per reception. He was a three-time Super Bowl winner who, when he retired, led the NFL in playoff catches and yards receiving.
And where has that gotten him? See Howton and Sharpe.
But why stop there? Cleveland fans ask about Mac Speedie, and for good reason. All the guy did in seven years was go to seven championship games and win four, lead the league four times in catches, six times get named All-Pro and set a league record (average yards receiving per season) that stood for two decades. Then he went to Canada and was all-league there, too.
So he was all-league in two countries but is not in Canton? Explain that one to me.
Yeah, I know, Anquan Boldin was a three-time Pro Bowler. He’s also a Hall-of-Fame individual whose voice commanded respect within the huddle and throughout the locker room. But he was never named an All-Pro, and that makes the Anquan Boldin Hall-of-Fame argument difficult … if not damned-near impossible … to make. I mean, how can you be considered one of the best ever when you weren’t considered one of the best of your era?
Answer: You can’t.
That doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve consideration. He does. But so does Drew Pearson ... and Harold Jackson ... and Harold Carmichael ... and Stanley Morgan ... and Henry Ellard, Billy Howton, Sterling Sharpe, Cliff Branch, Billy Wilson and Lavvie Dilweg. Yet none of them has been discussed.
In short, there are too many wide receivers with more ... and better ... qualifications already in line to think it ever happens.