While the league has notably become as passer-friendly as the game has ever seen, nothing has changed as much as throwing inside the chains.
So, in 2021-22 when Jaylen Waddle broke Anquan Boldin’s record for most receptions in a rookie year, he may have the league’s trend to shorter throws to thank for that.
Since Boldin hauled in 101 receptions in 2003, the league average for receptions per game has inflated by 18%. So, if we compared the two wideouts head-to-head, Boldin would post an additional 9 catches while Waddle loses 8.
In fact, if we look at the list of players to surpass 90 receptions in their rookie year, you can really gain appreciation to the rookie campaign out of the Cardinals’ second-rounder.
Boldin did not have to worry about his yards per reception to rack up over 1,500 yards after inflation, which was the trend of most of his career, as he only surpassed 14 yards per catch twice in his 13-year career.
But, in a similar fashion to why fewer people talked about Jaylen Waddle’s record-setting season, is because it is not nearly as flashy of a way to produce these numbers.
While five catches for 50 yards is not as jaw-dropping as one 50-yard catch, it not only achieves the same purpose, it’s actually a preferred method in the minds of coaching staffs.
Not only do the closer, safer throws protect the ball and keep your offense moving, but it also increases your time of possession and can drain clock. It’s the similar reason as to why early on the NFL, coaches were scared to throw the ball at all for the fear of turnovers and incompletions stopping the clock.
Once the talent of the position grew and teams realized the importance of West Coast Offenses, we saw the style of play popularized today, showing the utmost importance of route-running receivers like Boldin, Waddle, Thomas and even Saquan, who can get open closer to the line of scrimmage and reel in their targets.