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Anquan Boldin vs. Michael Crabtree

Posted by Chase Stuart on April 23, 2009

Ignoring cost, which player should be better for the next seven or so years? Obviously this is an impossible question to answer, as projecting the future is usually pointless. The very first post in PFR blog history asked whether Shaun Alexander or Reggie Bush would be the better player going forward; unfortunately, neither of the above wasn't an option.

So while we don't *really* know who is going to be better, and there are tons of intangibles surrounding both Boldin and Crabtree, I thought I'd take my best stab at trying to project the future for both players. To begin, I looked at all WRs who were "similar" to Anquan Boldin. What does that mean? Two things; one, in any year between 1970 and 2001, the WR was either 27, 28 or 29 years old. Two, they had to have between 500 and 900 yards of "Adjusted Value" in that specific season, using the formula from the Greatest WR Ever Series. Boldin last year had 661 adjusted yards of value.

I chose 1970 since that's the year the two leagues merged; 2001 is a good end date because that gives all WRs in the study seven years following the specific year in question. There were 92 WRs that fit the "age 27-29" and "value of 500-900 yards" description, ranging from players like Alfred Jenkins (who was a first team All Pro at age 29 in 1981 but caught just two TDs the rest of his career) to Cris Carter (who earned his first Pro Bowl berth at age 28 in 1993 and would go back to Hawaii for each of the next seven seasons). Who knows how Boldin will turn out, but these 92 data points give us a good starting point. I used the cutoff of 500 and 900 yards to provide a large enough sample for Boldin; many more players had between 500 and 661 yards of value than between 661 and say, 822, so we have to use a higher top point that bottom point.

The important thing is that of those 92 WRs, the average player was 28 years old and had a value of +655 in year N. That sounds a lot like Boldin in 2008. So how did the average WR do going forward?

He had a weighted score of +1453 yards over the next seven seasons, using 100% of each receiver's value in Year N+1, 95% of his value in Year N+2,... and finally 70% of his value in Year N+7. Below is the yearly breakdown.

N	 655
N+1	 385
N+2	 325
N+3	 291
N+4	 262
N+5	 166
N+6	 115
N+7	  80
WtAv	1453

As expected, the average WR had his best season in the very next season, and steadily declined as he aged. It's also worth noting the presence of regression to the mean -- in Year N+1, the average WR surely didn't decline significantly due to age; it's just that when you have +655 in value in one year, a lot of things go right. That doesn't happen every year.

The table at the end of this post lists a full breakdown of all 92 WRs, showing each player's year, age, team, value in year N (for Boldin, that would be 2008), and then values (non-weighted) in Years N+1 through N+7.

Now, what about Crabtree? We don't know too much about him, except he's a projected top ten pick. From 1970 to 2001, there were 31 WRs drafted in the top ten overall. Some were stars like James Lofton and Sterling Sharpe; others were busts like Ike Hilliard and David Terrell. How did they do on average?

They had an average draft selection of 6.4 and an average rookie age of 22.5. Crabtree is projected to go in the middle of the top ten and will be a 22 year old rookie. As a rookie, they had average scores of just +65; their weighted average over the first seven years of their careers was 1253. So in other words, a slight edge to the Boldins of the world. Here's the full breakdown. For comparison's sake, I'm going to call the player's rookie year his N+1 season. Boldin's 2008 season would be his Year N season, and 2009 his N+1 season. For Crabtree, I'll call 2009 -- his rookie year -- the N+1 season.

N+1	  65
N+2	 232
N+3	 273
N+4	 232
N+5	 248
N+6	 243
N+7	 206
	1253

The final table in this post lists a full breakdown of the 31 top ten picks, showing each player's draft year, age, team, and values in Years N+1 through N+7. Here's a guess at the yearly projection (in terms of value) for each WR over the next seven seasons:

		Crabtree	Boldin		Diff
Year N+1	 65		385	 	 320
Year N+2	232		325		  93
Year N+3	273		291		  18
Year N+4	232		262		  30
Year N+5	248		166		- 82
Year N+6	243		115		-128
Year N+7	206		 80		-126
						 126

These results aren't too surprising -- although I suspect the young WRs do a little better than most expect. For example, this time 9 years ago, Isaac Bruce was 27 and coming off a big season while Peter Warrick was a hotshot rookie. Obviously, Bruce was the much better player going forward. But there are lots of examples like Ken Burrough, who was coming off his second Pro Bowl Berth at the age of 29; that off-season, James Lofton was a top ten pick and clearly outshined Burrough the rest of their careers. On average, Crabtree's next seven years should be slightly worse than Terry Glenn's first seven years (+1347) while Boldin's next seven years should be slightly better than Isaac Bruce's seven seasons from 2001-2008 (+1301).

My system says Boldin is slightly more valuable than Crabtree, and the team that drafts Crabtree (in a vacuum) would probably be better off trading that pick for Boldin, assuming the Cardinals would accept that offer. If you disagree with that result, you must think one of five things:

1) Boldin is worse than a typical 27-29 year old WR with ~660 yards of value
2) Crabtree is better than your average WR drafted in the top ten
3) A weighted average of future production/my formula for measuring current or future production, is a bad way to measure WRs.
4) Things are different now than they were, on average, from 1970-2001 (including how much money you'd have to give each player). There have been some noteworthy top ten WRs from '02 to now that have busted; it's your call whether that's a trend or just noise due to a small sample size. There have been, of course, some studly ones, too.
5) If you're a rebuilding team, getting a great player 5 years from now is more valuable than a great player today.

There are also some legitimate, broader criticisms:

1) Boldin is better than your typical 27-29 year old WR with ~660 yards of value, because he's been good for awhile. We can safely say Boldin's better than Rick Upchurch; an argument could be made that we should be using two or three years worth of production for Boldin. I didn't because Boldin's production was not nearly as good in either '06 or '07 as it was in '08, and I thought that would lower his comparables. And I don't think Boldin is legitimately harmed by only using one year of production; while Upchurch is on the list, so is Jerry Rice, Michael Irvin, Cris Carter (twice), Tim Brown (three times) and several more HOFers. It is revisionist history to say the comparables were worse than Boldin because they stunk the rest of their careers.

2) Boldin is harmed by this system because he's competing with Larry Fitzgerald for catches. That's a legitimate point -- JKL has shown me some preliminary research suggesting that star WR duos may be undervalued in my system, which does factor team attempts into the equation.

3) Seven years is the wrong amount of time to use. Maybe three years is right, or maybe ten. I have no reason at all for picking seven, much less a good one. I spent about five seconds making the decision.

4) Obviously, all the rookies switched teams in Year N+1. Very few of the Boldins switched teams in Year N+1, but Boldin will (if you're a team trading for him or Crabtree). To the extent that either the QBs on the Crabtrees teams were worse than the QBs on the Boldins teams (very likely) or that Boldin would be harmed by switching teams, Crabtree is underrated here vis-a-vis Boldin.

5) Finally, no adjustment is made for the talent in each draft. Being the #8 pick in a weak draft might mean you grade out as a lower prospect than #14 in a strong draft

Anyway, here's the full list of Boldin's comparables and Crabtree's comparables.

Anquan Boldins

			year   	age	team	N value	N1--N2--N3--N4--N5--N6--N7
Michael Irvin		1993	27	dal	900	781--1262--582--552--372--0--0
Joe Horn		2000	28	nor	895	597--701--479--841--0--144--0
Alfred Jenkins		1981	29	atl	890	0--52--0--0--0--0--0
Tim Brown		1994	28	rai	872	782--556--896--420--756--700--558
Fred Biletnikoff	1971	28	rai	854	624--397--386--373--337--151--0
Gary Clark		1991	29	was	838	239--242--0--0--0--0--0
Henry Ellard		1989	28	ram	835	526--213--0--284--698--301--273
Bob Hayes		1970	28	dal	819	574--0--17--0--0--0--0
Herman Moore		1997	28	det	817	453--0--0--0--0--0--0
John Gilliam		1973	28	min	817	120--392--0--0--0--0--0
Isaac Bruce		2000	28	ram	816	308--204--210--522--0--222--0
Charlie Joiner		1976	29	sdg	816	201--0--455--458--473--99--52
Herman Moore		1996	27	det	811	817--453--0--0--0--0--0
Mel Gray		1975	27	crd	802	453--459--357--0--92--0--0
Steve Largent		1983	29	sea	797	762--670--693--630--0--0--0
John Stallworth		1979	27	pit	790	93--630--255--0--1113--404--0
John Gilliam		1972	27	min	786	817--120--392--0--0--0--0
Tim Brown		1995	29	rai	782	556--896--420--756--700--558--5
Michael Irvin		1994	28	dal	781	1262--582--552--372--0--0--0
James Lofton		1984	28	gnb	781	568--179--415--0--0--0--379
Art Monk		1985	28	was	776	427--184--133--434--0--512--0
Steve Largent		1981	27	sea	775	225--797--762--670--693--630--0
Harold Carmichael	1978	29	phi	775	599--345--541--330--0--0--0
Cliff Branch		1975	27	rai	750	1012--317--183--435--367--0--400
Terance Mathis		1994	27	atl	748	438--0--196--714--407--0--0
Carlos Carson		1987	29	kan	742	8--0--0--0--0--0--0
Jimmy Smith		1997	28	jax	735	682--1144--723--893--544--320--481
Derrick Alexander	2000	29	kan	722	0--0--0--0--0--0--0
Eric Moulds		2000	27	buf	715	88--637--238--522--337--0--0
Keyshawn Johnson	1999	27	nyj	715	452--569--313--85--256--194--56
Bob Chandler		1976	27	buf	700	342--193--380--0--0--0--0
Steve Watson		1984	27	den	688	105--0--0--0--0--0--0
Jimmy Smith		1998	29	jax	682	1144--723--893--544--320--481--403
James Lofton		1983	27	gnb	679	781--568--179--415--0--0--0
Rod Smith		1997	27	den	672	658--338--1031--1052--345--304--480
Tim Brown		1993	27	rai	667	872--782--556--896--420--756--700
Warren Wells		1970	28	rai	665	0--0--0--0--0--0--0
Wallace Francis		1979	28	atl	664	400--0--0--0--0--0--0
Drew Hill		1985	29	oti	661	433--545--781--426--0--70--0
Pat Tilley		1980	27	crd	658	516--306--73--0--39--1--0
Rod Smith		1998	28	den	658	338--1031--1052--345--304--480--609
Jerry Rice		1991	29	sfo	658	739--1179--1207--1329--739--17--486
John Stallworth		1981	29	pit	630	255--0--1113--404--0--32--0
Fred Biletnikoff	1972	29	rai	624	397--386--373--337--151--0--0
Sterling Sharpe		1994	29	gnb	623	0--0--0--0--0--0--0
Ken Burrough		1976	28	oti	622	622--218--363--3--163--0--0
Ken Burrough		1977	29	oti	622	218--363--3--163--0--0--0
Freddie Scott		1979	27	det	613	389--552--0--0--0--0--0
Keenan McCardell	1997	27	jax	610	347--189--598--495--0--474--115
Isaac Bruce		1999	27	ram	609	816--308--204--210--522--0--222
Michael Jackson		1996	27	rav	602	89--0--0--0--0--0--0
Joe Horn		2001	29	nor	597	701--479--841--0--144--0--0
Drew Pearson		1979	28	dal	595	65--23--101--0--0--0--0
Muhsin Muhammad		2000	27	car	589	0--299--235--956--273--129--0
Derrick Mason		2001	27	oti	588	538--853--432--305--0--454--582
Anthony Carter		1988	28	min	587	319--430--0--0--126--0--0
Stanley Morgan		1982	27	nwe	586	354--172--211--995--314--0--0
Jake Reed		1996	29	min	580	442--0--0--0--0--0--0
Paul Warfield		1970	28	mia	580	977--451--468--423--284--0--0
Harold Jackson		1975	29	ram	580	525--460--336--506--241--0--0
Eric Martin		1988	27	nor	577	525--284--23--521--317--0--0
Mark Duper		1986	27	mia	576	4--0--0--0--211--0--0
Tim Smith		1984	27	oti	574	0--0--0--0--0--0--0
Bob Hayes		1971	29	dal	574	0--17--0--0--0--0--0
Alfred Jenkins		1980	28	atl	573	890--0--52--0--0--0--0
Keyshawn Johnson	2001	29	tam	569	313--85--256--194--56--0--0
Jimmy Smith		1996	27	jax	568	735--682--1144--723--893--544--320
James Lofton		1985	29	gnb	568	179--415--0--0--0--379--14
Wes Chandler		1985	29	sdg	567	24--0--0--0--0--0--0
Cris Carter		1993	28	min	562	541--896--603--618--432--770--863
Charley Taylor		1970	29	was	562	339--599--636--417--348--0--0
Richard Johnson		1989	28	det	562	93--0--0--0--0--0--0
Freddie Scott		1981	29	det	552	0--0--0--0--0--0--0
Ron Jessie		1976	28	ram	550	60--226--0--0--0--0--0
Wesley Walker		1982	27	nyj	549	175--223--261--425--0--0--0
Gary Clark		1989	27	was	546	396--838--239--242--0--0--0
Cris Carter		1994	29	min	541	896--603--618--432--770--863--109
Tony Hill		1985	29	dal	539	0--0--0--0--0--0--0
Cris Collinsworth	1986	27	cin	538	110--0--0--0--0--0--0
John Taylor		1989	27	sfo	531	0--283--5--206--0--0--0
Eric Metcalf		1995	27	atl	531	0--0--0--0--0--0--0
Henry Ellard		1990	29	ram	526	213--0--284--698--301--273--0
Eric Martin		1989	28	nor	525	284--23--521--317--0--0--0
Jack Snow		1970	27	ram	525	316--181--0--0--0--0--0
Anthony Miller		1993	28	sdg	525	144--500--0--0--0--0--0
Ray Jarvis		1976	27	det	524	0--0--0--0--0--0--0
Rick Upchurch		1979	27	den	523	23--15--0--117--0--0--0
Gary Garrison		1972	28	sdg	516	95--517--9--0--0--0--0
Pat Tilley		1981	28	crd	516	306--73--0--39--1--0--0
Andre Reed		1991	27	buf	504	151--243--733--71--419--185--230
Mark Clayton		1988	27	mia	504	210--0--319--0--0--0--0
Anthony Carter		1987	27	min	504	587--319--430--0--0--126--0

Michael Crabtrees

			year   	age	team	N1--N2--N3--N4--N5--N6--N7
Ken Burrough		1970	22	nor	0--0--78--131--231--927--622
J.D. Hill		1971	23	buf	61--599--214--445--377--0--0
Frank Lewis		1971	24	pit	0--105--258--21--1--0--0
Ahmad Rashad		1972	23	crd	72--0--275--291--314--178--697
Larry Burton		1975	24	nor	0--0--0--49--0--0--0
Wes Chandler		1978	22	nor	0--728--364--313--179--1216--0
James Lofton		1978	22	gnb	516--503--707--825--603--679--781
Jerry Butler		1979	22	buf	460--377--314--188--0--0--0
Lam Jones		1980	22	nyj	0--0--0--33--153--0--0
David Verser		1981	23	cin	0--0--0--0--0--0--0
Irving Fryar		1984	22	nwe	0--105--96--0--0--0--6
Kenny Jackson		1984	22	phi	0--0--0--0--0--0--0
Al Toon			1985	22	nyj	34--685--547--548--143--241--224
Tim Brown		1988	22	rai	0--0--0--0--83--667--872
Sterling Sharpe		1988	23	gnb	0--727--297--177--1074--931--623
Herman Moore		1991	22	det	0--615--493--754--1238--811--817
Desmond Howard		1992	22	was	0--0--0--0--0--0--0
Curtis Conway		1993	22	chi	0--0--426--376--89--13--0
Joey Galloway		1995	24	sea	380--320--427--483--0--42--91
Michael Westbrook	1995	23	was	0--0--0--195--500--0--58
J.J. Stokes		1995	23	sfo	0--0--179--0--0--0--0
Terry Glenn		1996	22	nwe	401--0--314--519--256--23--0
Keyshawn Johnson	1996	24	nyj	103--206--539--715--452--569--313
Ike Hilliard		1997	21	nyg	0--0--75--221--0--29--0
David Boston		1999	21	crd	0--452--1066--85--377--0--0
Torry Holt		1999	23	ram	0--895--670--431--1224--707--847
Plaxico Burress		2000	23	pit	0--438--635--90--406--485--422
Peter Warrick		2000	23	cin	0--0--0--300--0--0--0
Travis Taylor		2000	22	rav	0--0--234--0--0--0--0
Koren Robinson		2001	21	sea	0--430--245--0--0--0--0
David Terrell		2001	22	chi	0--0--0--0--0--0--0

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