Every year there are a few veterans waiting on teams to assess their depth chart, only to find out they have underestimated their roster. For Anquan Boldin and Andre Johnson, they had to wait until July to get that call and see if they can disrupt the depth chart and sting the hopes of dynasty owners everywhere. For the Lions and Titans, they get a pair of potential NFL Hall of Famers, but what does it mean for the short-term expectations of their teammates?
[am4show have=’g1;’ guest_error=’sub_message’ user_error=’sub_message’ ]
Anquan Boldin – signs with the Detroit Lions
Boldin’s fate was sealed with San Francisco the moment Chip Kelly became the head coach. It was surprising given the 49ers depth chart at wide receiver and the steady production Boldin provided the team in 2015. His 111 targets last year represented the 12th time in 13 seasons that Boldin surpassed the century mark (his 99 in 2010 was in just 12 games). By the way, the next highest target total for San Francisco in 2015 was Torrey Smith with 62. Boldin remains a strong possession receiver; his 88% of targets coming underneath is well above the 81% average for wide receivers. He caught 67% of those in 2015, right on par with the NFL average.
Moving to Detroit, Boldin’s skills in the outside short game, complements leading receiver Golden Tate, who thrives more over the middle of the field. Boldin provides the Lions with the best depth they have had since Nate Burleson and Titus Young played alongside recently retired Calvin Johnson. Add in Marvin Jones, the team’s other 2016 signing and the best deep threat, and Matthew Stafford should be excited for a potentially loaded offense. However, Lance Moore, last year’s third receiver, managed just 54% of the team’s offensive snaps.
So what does this mean for Boldin himself? I expect him to surpass that 54% snap rate as the team incorporates more three receiver sets and a willingness to move Golden Tate into the slot consistently. Likely, that 100 target threshold he has so easily surpassed each year is likely unrealistic. 70-80 targets looks more plausible with some work in the red zone as the team tries to find new options post-Megatron.
Theo Riddick – I start with Riddick because I believe this hurts him the most. Boldin’s skills on the short outside routes mirror what made Riddick successful in 2015. He will not repeat the 99 targets from last year and could be on the field less as the team goes with more three receiver sets.
Golden Tate – Tate remains the best receiver on this team and the player Stafford will look to when he gets that tunnel vision. He should see a similar target count (128 in 2015) but an increase in yards per reception (9.0) as Boldin becomes the short option and Tate can be used more vertically.
Marvin Jones – Jones should remain the second receiver here but a slight decrease in snaps and targets could result from the Boldin signing. He is the best red zone threat though and that is not being challenged by Boldin’s arrival. A slight downgrade at worst.
Eric Ebron – The third year tight end could see a few less plays with Boldin around. Don’t forget Ebron finished as the TE13 last year with Johnson around. He should still threaten to break into the top twelve.
Andre Johnson – signs with the Tennessee Titans
The 2015 Indianapolis Colts offense was a disaster and Andre Johnson’s season did not rise above it. His yards per game (31.4) and catch rate (53%) were the worst of his career and this was the first time Johnson failed to average four receptions per game in a season. Johnson, along with the aforementioned Boldin, is one of just 13 players with 1000 receptions for his career. The difference in the two, is that while Boldin has thrived despite advancing age due to his technical knowledge, Johnson has faded as his elite athleticism has slowly left him. Even being a step slower, Johnson is still targeted on deep passes 28% of the time, well above the 18% league average. Unfortunately, he is converting at a low rate; just 32% of those passes were caught in 2015 (partial blame to the Colts QB carousel), well below 39% league average and 37% average Johnson had in 2013-2014 with the Texans.
Now, Johnson is a member of the Titans where the wide receiver depth chart is a complete unknown. His biggest advantage may be as a blocker, which is always helpful in an Exotic Smashmouth… I think. The 2015 Titans were 21st in pass attempts while the Colts were ninth, even with the turmoil at quarterback. No Titans wide receiver exceeded 67 targets last year while Johnson had 77 in his worst year.
For Johnson, step one is making the team. With holdovers Kendall Wright and Dorial Green-Beckham along with new players in Rishard Matthews and rookie Tajae Sharpe; Johnson has a lot of competition. And then there is the Exotic Smashmouth featuring newbees DeMarco Murray and rookie Derrick Henry. I did not forget Delanie Walker either, who led the team in all receiving categories. Johnson will likely struggle if he does make the team to find much volume. 60 targets would be a stretch, meaning that 40 receptions is what we could be looking at in a best case scenario.
Delanie Walker – He will not be impacted here. Walker remains the leader of this receiving group and someone Marcus Mariota will rely on in tight situations.
Dorial Green-Beckham – DGB has struggled this offseason and could actually cede snaps. Johnson is the most physical receiver besides Green-Beckham and would be a natural alternative in the red zone and jump ball situations where DGB has been expected to thrive. I would not downgrade Green-Beckham but would be cautious to rely on him for 2016 production.
Rishard Matthews – I believe the team likes Matthews and sees him as a steady receiving option for Mariota. Also, with Wright a free agent after the season, Matthews could be the long-term possession option.
Kendall Wright – With a $7.3 million cap figure and no relief if cut, Wright’s roster spot is safe. That said, could he lose even more snaps if Johnson is aboard? I believe he would be relegated to slot duties and could lose out there at times to Matthews with Johnson and Green-Beckham on the outside.
Tajae Sharpe – The rookie is having a nice off-season and do not see Johnson being an impediment to Sharpe beyond development. You weren’t expecting to play him in your lineups in year one. This doesn’t change that.
DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry – Outside of a small bump in blocking quality from Andre Johnson, this shouldn’t impact the run game. Best case scenario, Johnson is used similarly to Riley Cooper for run blocking and the occasional pass play.
What do you think of the signings? Does Boldin or Johnson become more than depth options on your 2016 dynasty team?