Now that we’re in full offseason mode, we’re going to review every single Detroit Lions player that finished the 2016 season under contract. We’ll look at their expectations coming into the season, whether they met those expectations and what to expect of them going forward. We will begin with the upcoming free agents, as they are the most intriguing and time sensitive.
Expectations before 2016
Prior to Quinn’s signing of Boldin in late July, the Lions’ receiving corps incited less excitement among fans, even with the addition of Marvin Jones in free agency. The loss of Calvin Johnson still seemed to be lingering, and Detroit had very little depth beyond Golden Tate and Marvin Jones. Jeremy Kerley—who would be traded before the end of the preseason—TJ Jones, Andre Roberts and a cast of undrafted free agents seemed to all be in play for a roster spot.
Enter Boldin, a veteran whose versatility was instantly attractive for a team with a group of young, limited receivers. Although he had been a threat outside the numbers, Boldin’s use in San Francisco in previous years was almost exclusively in the slot. For the Lions, Boldin represented a physical receiver with strong hands that could give them a pseudo-tight end opposite of Eric Ebron, and a sure-handed target in the red zone.
Actual role in 2016
2016 stats: 16 games (16 started) | 95 targets, 67 receptions, 584 yards, 8 touchdowns
Boldin immediately filled a critical role with the Lions in 2016, lining up mostly in the slot and working quick in, out and slant routes. He also filled in nicely as a red zone threat, catching 64 percent of his red zone targets (14 of 22) for 107 yards and six touchdowns.
During the stretch where the Lions won eight out of nine games, Boldin was a key component of the passing game, catching 38 passes for 345 yards and five touchdowns. It might not sound like much, but take a look at where Boldin was even more effective: Third and fourth down when the drive was on the line. Of Boldin’s 67 receptions in 2016, 25 of them were on third or fourth down, and 21 of those receptions resulted in first downs.
According to Pro Football Focus, Anquan Boldin’s 70.3 grade ranked 71st out of 119 qualifying wide receivers. He was the third-highest graded receiver on the Lions behind both Golden Tate and Marvin Jones.
Outlook for 2017
Contract status: Unrestricted free agent
It’s up to Boldin whether his body can handle another season of football, but according to according to him, there’s "... still a passion that runs in [him] for football." Whether or not he chooses to return for his 15th professional season in Detroit is another question.
The Lions have other, younger receivers like Jace Billingsley and TJ Jones on the roster should they choose to go that route, which seems unlikely if they want to reproduce the kind of production Detroit go from Boldin in 2016. They could target a few different players in free agency to fill Boldin’s role should they want more of a long-term solution:
Kamar Aiken (PFF rank: 95th of 119): Four years, $26.3 million*
DeSean Jackson (PPF rank: 36th of 119): Three years, $22.8 million*
Robert Woods (PFF rank: 60th of 119): Four years, $34 million*
*All of the above contracts are market value estimates courtesy of Spotrac
If they choose to pass on both of those options, taking a receiver in the draft is always an option as well. But if the Lions are comfortable with bringing him back, the deal will probably be similar to the one year, $2.7 million dollar deal he signed last offseason.
Previously profiled Lions: Riley Reiff