Boldin an exception to receiver rule.

<b>Bonus free story. Please consider a site subscription and access this stuff daily.</b><br>OWINGS MILLS – Solving the mystery of how wide receiver Anquan Boldin emerged as a Pro Bowl selection remains a nagging preoccupation for NFL teams' talent detectives.<br><br> The initial success of the Arizona Cardinals' humble NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year shapes up as a multi-faceted issue within the scouting process.<br>

How does a wide receiver without elite stopwatch sprinting speed excel at a position and a league based heavily on possessing that physical quality?

Five wide receivers were drafted before the 6-foot-1, 218-pound Boldin last spring following his 4.70 and 4.72 clockings in the 40-yard dash at the scouting combine. Several teams, including the Baltimore Ravens, have acknowledged that Boldin's slow sprint times and a knee injury that cost him his junior season affected his stock.

"Sometimes teams get too caught up in how fast a player runs and kind of forget about how much they liked him when they turned on the film and watched him in person," said NFL draft consultant Gil Brandt, who ran the Dallas Cowboys' drafts for Hall of Fame coach Tom Landry. "Anquan Boldin is a perfect example of needing to trust your judgments based on tape and only use physical testing as part of the process. 

"Yes, a lot of people are wondering how this happened. It's a credit to this young man, to his ability and character. Every year, players are hungry to prove people wrong about them."

Even Cardinals vice president of football operations Rod Graves selected Penn State receiver Bryant Johnson, a Baltimore native, in the first round before tabbing Boldin in the second round with the 54th overall selection.

One query is practically unanswerable in relation to Boldin, and his production of 101 receptions, 1,377 yards and eight touchdowns last season.

Is there a player in this receiver-rich draft that could slide to the second round and approach or duplicate Boldin's success? Could LSU's Michael Clayton or Devery Henderson, Ohio State's Michael Jenkins, Oklahoma State's Rashaun Woods or Washington State's Devard Darling elude teams' grasp in the first round and then make them sorry that they didn't turn their name in to NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue?

"You can just imagine how many times Mel Kiper will invoke the name of Anquan Boldin, more times than we want to hear," said Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick of the outspoken ESPN draft analyst. "He will be the bell cow for the second round."

The AFC North champion Ravens had the lowest-ranked passing game in the league last season and don't draft until the second round with the 51st overall pick. Baltimore traded first and second-round draft picks last season to obtain starting quarterback Kyle Boller.

General manager Ozzie Newsome has said the Ravens won't sacrifice the value of the 51st pick to address his football team's most-glaring area of need. And Billick has called Boldin an exception to the rule about how long it takes a receiver to assimilate to the faster, more physical pace of professional football.

"I think you had a good case in Arizona from last year," Billick said. "Here is a team that focused their efforts on one position. Why is it that the second-rounder turned into the Pro Bowler? It is a unique set of abilities that is hard to quantify."

The primary reasons Boldin has succeeded, scouts and analysts say, are because of his uncommon work ethic and hands, crisp route-running, having enough upper-body strength to defeat press coverage and another trait that's difficult to measure: intelligence.

"I always thought if I was given an opportunity that I could succeed," Boldin told Arizona reporters. "Coming into the season, people were saying that I wouldn't be any more than a third-down receiver.

"You've got to give credit to my coaches. They gave me an opportunity, and after proving myself, they continued to give me chance after chance."

Boldin was preceded in the draft by these receivers: the Detroit Lions' Charles Rogers, the Houston Texans' Andre Johnson, the Cardinals' Johnson, the Washington Redskins' Taylor Jacobs and the New England Patriots' Bethel Johnson. None have made the kind of impact that Boldin has since he departed the Florida State campus. 

Those five players combined for 142 catches, 1,903 yards, and 11 touchdowns last season.

Ravens director of college scouting Eric DeCosta recalled interviewing Boldin at the scouting combine last year and coming away impressed.

A year later, DeCosta categorizes Boldin as an anomaly because of the varied combination of qualities that allowed him to succeed last season in addition to the starting job he gained when veteran Larry Foster suffered an injury prior to the season-opener.

"The one thing that caused him to slip a bit was his 40 time, which wasn't outstanding, but he's never been a fast guy," DeCosta said. "He has outstanding hands, is very physical, had made plays in clutch situations and he has continued to do that.

"You look at these guys and, hopefully, you get a guy who's faster. Anquan is somewhat of an anomaly because he is a slower guy who runs very quick routes. There aren't many guys like him who are able to succeed at our level by doing that."

Boldin caught 10 passes for 217 yards against the Detroit Lions last season, the most for a receiver making his NFL debut. 

Balance and strength were two of the chief hallmarks Boldin demonstrated in making the transition to the NFL.

"He's strong enough to run through press coverage and he's probably not a down-the-field, gamebreaker type, but he's a middle-of-the-field, move-the-chains type," DeCosta said. "He's able to do that because of his quickness, dropping his weight and coming out of his cuts."

A former Mr. Football at Florida's Pahokee High School, Boldin was recruited to Florida State as a quarterback. He left as a wide receiver who caught 118 passes for 1,790 yards and 21 touchdowns in just 23 starts.

After excellent individual performances that came in the Cardinals' losses last season, Boldin always said he would gladly trade his gaudy statistics for a victory. He was also willing to play through rib and hamstring injuries.

In a midseason survey last year asking rookies to identify his secret ambition, Boldin said he wanted to help turn the Cardinals' organization around and change the nationwide perception of them as perennial losers. Other rookies professed a desire to work in the music industry, play professional basketball or marry Jennifer Lopez.

Could another grounded, gifted receiver be available in the second round for a second consecutive year?

"No one is going to say, ‘This guy is another Anquan Boldin,'" DeCosta said. "You're more apt to say someone is another Randy Moss. You're looking for guys who are big and fast like that. Anquan is a unique guy. You won't find many guys like that."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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