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Is the next Anquan Boldin out there?

2/4/2013

Anquan Boldin came to Baltimore via a 2009 trade with Arizona, and Boldin is coming of his best season in a Ravens uniform (65 catches, 921 yards, 4 TD) that ended with an impressive performance (6 catches, 104 yards, TD) in Super Bowl XLVII.

Not bad for a 32-year old receiver who ran the 40-yard dash in the 4.7-second range at the 2003 Combine. Boldin doesn't have the flashy speed of Baltimore running mates Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones, but he makes up for it with a physical style.

Boldin is a savvy route-runner who knows how to get open underneath, but he doesn't have to separate from coverage to make plays. He uses his 220-pound frame to box defenders out and has the strong hands to pull the ball in with defenders on his back. Boldin is a shade under 6-foot-1, but he's strong and aggressive enough to come down with jump balls.

His power also shows up after the catch. Boldin won't make many defenders miss and he's not going to run away from NFL pursuit, but he'll lower his shoulder and drive his legs through contact.

Finally, there's no questioning Boldin's toughness. A crushing hit by Jets S Eric Smith in 2008 required Boldin to undergo surgery to repair a sinus fracture and wires to be inserted in his lower jaw. Boldin also sustained a concussion on the play, but he was back in the lineup and less than a month.

So which receivers in the 2013 draft class are cut from the same cloth as Boldin? Here's a look at three wideouts who are expected to run better 40 times than Boldin but who clearly rely more on size, strength and competitiveness than explosiveness and top-end speed.

California's Keenan Allen (Grade: 89)

Allen missed the final three games of 2012 after injuring his left knee trying to recover an onside kick against Utah, and he also underwent ankle surgery in the spring of 2012. Teams will pay close attention to his medical exams as the draft approaches, but his big-play ability will also be important to his evaluation.

Allen has the frame (6-3, 206) and body control to make plays downfield against one-on-one coverage, and he's shifty after the catch for a player his size. However, he's similar to Boldin in that Allen isn't a burner who can ran past NFL corners or away from NFL pursuit after the catch.

Allen still projects as a fringe first round pick, though, because he is a polished route-runner who masks average burst by setting up breaks and can pluck the ball out of the air without breaking stride. He also does not hesitate to go over the middle, where he excels at attacking the second level of coverage and can hold on to the ball after absorbing a big hit.

His competitiveness is impressive, too. In addition to fighting for yards after contact, Allen continues to adjust his route and look for voids in the coverage when his quarterback holds onto the ball.

Tennessee Tech's Da'Rick Rogers* (70)

Being a saint isn't a requirement to play in the NFL, and Rogers won't be the first mercurial receiver to enjoy success if he catches on. Still, it's important that he impress teams during the interview process and ease concerns about his character baggage, because Rogers doesn't have the elite natural ability to make teams overlook it. He lacks the second gear to take the top of the coverage and is not an elite big-play threat after the catch.

Rogers has the strong hands to snatch the ball out of the air and appears to have an above-average catching radius even for a player who checks in at 6-3 and 215 pounds. He also has the body control to adjust to passes thrown outside his frame and win jump balls downfield and in the red zone.

Rogers doesn't separate as well as Allen, but he's also willing to work the middle of the field and capable of making plays against tight coverage. And while there are red flags surrounding his off-field character, it's hard to question Rogers' passion for the game and that will matter most to an NFL team.

Elon's Aaron Mellette (64)

Mellette played four years at the FCS level and that naturally raises concerns about the level of competition he faced. However, after watching him against the likes of Vanderbilt (2011) and North Carolina (2012), and at the 2013 Senior Bowl, he appears capable of contributing at the next level.

Mellette had a tough time separating from coverage at the Senior Bowl, but his performance there was not a complete letdown. He showed he can shield defenders from the ball, and made some of the same kinds of tough catches he's made on film.

And despite struggles against the Tar Heels. Mellette has proven he can hold his own when the level of competition jumps up. He doesn't have great arm length or hand size, but he doesn't drop many balls and there is a lot to like about his aggressiveness and strength when competing for 50-50 balls.