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Former Cardinals WR Anquan Boldin faces long Hall of Fame wait

Howard Balzer Avatar
November 30, 2023

Ask anyone that played against former Cardinal Anquan Boldin and they’d likely say they didn’t enjoy matching up with him.

As physical as any wide receiver there has been in many years, Boldin dished out loads of punishment and also took whatever came his way from opponents.

Now, seven years after he played his final NFL game, Boldin is among an unrelenting group of pass-catchers that have hopes of one day having a bust in Canton, Ohio, in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Larry Fitzgerald, who played 17 NFL seasons including six (2004-2009 with the Cardinals) alongside Boldin, believes he is deserving.

“There’s nobody you want in your foxhole or to have your back like him,” Fitzgerald told espn.com after Boldin retired. “So, I wish we could’ve been able to play a little longer. But to be able to see him go off and win a championship. … The dude has had an unbelievable Hall of Fame career.”

It very will might happen for Boldin, but it also is likely to take a while. That’s the reality that marks the quality of receivers that are considered every year.

The Hall announced the 25 semifinalists for the Class of 2024 this week and Boldin is one of six wide receivers that reached this stage for the third consecutive year. No other position group has that many semifinalists. There are four running backs and edge rushers, three linebackers, two safeties and one tight end, guard, tackle, defensive tackle, cornerback and kick returner.

All of the six have been a semifinalist in each of their eligible years. Players become eligible for the Hall of Fame for the first time after being out of the NFL for five seasons.

That group is led by former St. Louis Rams receiver Torry Holt, who ended his career with the Jaguars, and who is now a 10-time semifinalist. Hines Ward of the Steelers is in his eighth year as a semifinalist, followed by Reggie Wayne of the Colts (five). Boldin, Andre Johnson (Texans, Colts Titans) and Steve Smith Sr. (Panthers, Ravens) are all in their third year as a semifinalist. Boldin played with the Ravens, 49ers and Lions after his time in Arizona.

The next vote of the selection committee (of which I am one of the 50), will be in December when the list is reduced to 15 finalists and all will be discussed in a January meeting that often lasts as long as nine hours.

That meeting will end with five of the 15 surviving the process and they will be enshrined in August in Canton along with the three seniors candidates (Randy Gradishar, Steve McMichael and Art Powell) and coach Buddy Parker that receive the required votes for selection.

Having been on the committee for 20 years, as difficult as it is for all of us to make these life-changing decisions for all candidates, the hardest involves the receivers, especially considering the explosion in the NFL passing game over the last several decades.

Of the current six semifinalists, Holt, Johnson and Wayne have been the only ones to advance to be finalists. Only nine of the 25 have been finalists and that is for a total of 21 years. The wide receivers account for 10 of those 21 with Holt and Wayne each at four and Johnson with two.

Wayne and Johnson have been a finalist in each year of their eligibility, while Holt waited mainly because he and his Rams teammates – wide receiver Isaac Bruce, quarterback Kurt Warner and tackle Orlando Pace — all became eligible in 2015. Pace was elected in 2016, Warner in 2017 and Bruce in 2020.

Boldin, Smith and Ward likely won’t become finalists until those in the other trio are elected.

The committee experienced a similar logjam starting in 2007 when Andre Reed and Art Monk were finalists and neither was elected. The following year, Cris Carter joined Reed and Monk as finalists and Monk was elected. In 2009, Carter and Reed weren’t elected again and the group expanded to three in 2010 when Tim Brown became eligible for the first time.

None of the three were elected for three years until Carter broke through in 2013, paving the way for Reed in 2014 and Brown in 2015. Brown and Carter were each elected in their sixth year of eligibility, while Reed was in his ninth and a finalist eight times.

After Brown, Wayne’s Colts teammate Marvin Harrison was elected in 2016, his third year of eligibility, followed by Randy Moss (first-time eligible) in 2018 along with Terrell Owens (third year), Bruce in 2020 in his sixth year of eligibility and fourth as a finalist and Calvin Johnson (first-time eligible) in 2021.

The century began with Lynn Swann reaching Canton in 2001, one year before his Steelers teammate, John Stallworth. However, it was a long slog for both, largely because they were often being discussed in the same meeting.

Swann was elected in his 14th year of eligibility (that is not a typo!) and Stallworth in his 10th and eighth year as a finalist.

In 2003, James Lofton (three-time finalist, fifth year of eligibility) was elected, Michael Irvin (third year of eligibility and finalist) in 2007 and slam-dunk first-time eligible Jerry Rice in 2010.

To further illustrate what Boldin and others face is that the 14 wide receivers enshrined since 2001 totaled 76 years of eligibility and 69 times as finalists.

What makes separating the receivers an enormous challenge is because their numbers are so similar.

Feb 8, 2023; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; Former Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald talks to Rory McIlroy on the second hole in the Annexus Pro-Am during the WM Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

While Fitzgerald will be eligible in 2026 and most consider him a no-brainer in his first year, the surprise is how similar his numbers are when they are broken down per game rather than by the total.

Boldin has the most receptions among the current semifinalists with 1,076, but that is only six more than Wayne and 14 more than Johnson. Fitzgerald has 1,432 catches, but he played 263 games, which is 44 more than Smith’s 219.

That also explains his 17,492 yards, which is 2,761 more than Smith. His 121 touchdowns are 36 more than Ward, but, again, Fitzgerald’s longevity accounts for the discrepancy.

Holt’s overall numbers are lower than the group, but a knee injury ended his career prematurely. He comes up big in per-game averages and average per catch.

Here is how they all match up in several categories and pay close attention to the averages:

Seasons/games/games started

Fitzgerald: 17/263/261

Smith: 16/219/198

Ward: 14/217/190

Wayne: 14/211/197

Boldin: 14/202/198

Johnson: 14/193/187

Holt: 11/173/158

Receptions/average per catch/per game

Johnson: 1062/13.4/5.5

Fitzgerald: 1432/12.2/5.4

Boldin: 1076/12.8/5.33

Holt: 920/14.5/5.32

Wayne: 1070/13.4/5.1

Smith: 1031/14.3/4.7

Ward: 1000/12.1/4.6

Yards/per game

Holt: 13,382/77.4

Johnson: 14,185/73.5

Boldin: 13,779/68.2

Wayne: 14,345/68.0

Smith: 14,731/67.3

Fitzgerald: 17,492/66.5

Ward: 12,083/55.7

Touchdowns/per game/catches per TD (lower the better)

Fitzgerald: 121/0.46/11.83

Holt: 74/0.43/12.4

Boldin: 82/0.41/13.1

Ward: 85/0.392/11.76

Wayne: 82/0.388/13.0

Smith: 81/0.37/12.7

Johnson: 70/0.36/15.2

It all illustrates there is very little separation among a group of worthy players.

It’s also no wonder that Fitzgerald laments not being a teammate longer with Boldin, who departed in a contract dispute. In their six seasons years together, the numbers are remarkable.

Dec 26, 2020; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) leaves the field after finishing the last home game of the season at State Farm Stadium. Nfl San Francisco 49ers At Arizona Cardinals

In 2005, they each had more than 100 receptions. Fitzgerald led the NFL with 103 and Boldin had 102. Fitzgerald had 1,409 yards and 10 touchdowns, while Boldin had 1,402 and seven.

Boldin played 79 games with 76 starts; had 485 receptions (6.1 per game); 780 targets (9.9); 6,143 yards (77.8), 12.7 per catch; and 36 touchdowns (0.46).

Fitzgerald played and started 92 games; had 523 receptions (5.7 per game); 865 targets (9.4); 7,067 yards (76.8); 13.5 per catch; and 59 touchdowns (0.64).

The totals for both players is 171 games and 168 starts; 1,008 receptions on 1,645 targets; 13,210 yards, 13.1 per catch; and 95 touchdowns.

Boldin has often said he only thinks about the Hall of Fame when someone asks him about it. Unfortunately, the chances are, he’s going to be asked for many years to come.

Don’t hesitate to comment or ask questions on Twitter @hbalzer721 or email me: howard@gophnx.com. Also, become a DIEHARD and use the promo code HOWARD

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