5 Plays: Tyler Boyd, Pitt
With receivers like Tyler Boyd, whose game is predicated on savvy and mental ability more than athleticism, there is often a lot of over and undervaluation. Some analysts will get too caught up in his technique and awareness, claiming that he will always find a way to be open. Others will counter by saying that his limited athleticism will get him punished, despite his skills in the nuances of playing wide receiver. Most of the time, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. For Boyd, that means that his savvy and awareness willÂ make him a useful weapon, but his athleticism will limit him from being a dynamic, No.1 type receiver.
The most similar player to Boyd in recent memory is now Philadelphia Eagles receiver Jordan Matthews. Matthews, like Boyd, understands where to find open field and how to manipulate defenders, but struggles gaining ground at the line of scrimmage and has hands that can tend to fail him entirely out of nowhere. In his entirety, Matthews is not a No.1 type that can dominate the boundary, but the role he plays in the slot is critical, and he is damn good at it. Boyd can have a very similar presence.
1. Route Running
This route is drawn up for Boyd to run a simple curl, but he adds his own flare to the route that creates a lot of separation for himself. Instead of turning right around at the top of the route, Boyd breaks out at an angle, selling that he is running a corner route. Without hesitation, the cornerback buys Boydâ€™s fake and heads up field at angle. Boyd now has plenty of room to turn around entirely and catch the ball on his curl route because he cleared out the cornerback. With one small move, Boyd made this play much easier on himself and his quarterback.
These little moves and extra mental efforts are going to be how Boyd earns his paycheck. He knows how to create separation in ways that many others can not. The play above seemed simple, but it is not too common to see a receiver understand the opposing coverage and know how to beat it without straying from his assignment. Boyd creates separation in subtle ways like this quite often, making him a menace for most college cornerbacks, who rely mostly on athletic ability.
2. Awareness (Zone Beating)
Boydâ€™s display of awareness and patience on this play gave him the best chance of making it work. Before making a definitive cut, Boyd peaks over to see what the two defenders in his soon-to-be area are doing so that he knows how deep down the field he should make his cut. He makes his move when he sees where the open area is going to be and takes advantage of it, allowing his quarterback an easy throw that went for a 20-yard gain.
This sort of awareness of oneâ€™s surroundings is what makes great finesse receivers as great as they are. There is an understanding of what the defense is doing and how to attack, which gives them the edge over the opponent because those who think fast, play fast. Boyd processes defenses quickly and exploits their weaknesses often, making him a nightmare for defensive coordinators because there is no true “counter” to Boydâ€™s mental strength.
3. Limited Early Separation
On a critical down, Boyd fails to eat up the cushion and truly threaten the defender over the top. His burst off of the line of scrimmage is minimal, at best, and he does not generate much speed with each step he takes. With Boyd moving as slow as he did off the snap, the defender has more time to react to the play and prepare to turn and run with him.
Boydâ€™s game is not predicated on winning the play early. With a cornerback that can dominate the line of scrimmage, like a Richard Sherman or Desmond Trufant, Boyd is going to struggle to ever win the release. Even with corrnerbacks that can not win the line of scrimmage well, Boydâ€™s lack of intimidation coming off of the line of scrimmage gives defenders more time and comfort when defending him because there is no immediate threat. No matter the situation, the lack of presence from Boyd at the beginning of a play will play into the defenses hands and force Boyd to be extra precise later in the play.
4. Hands “On”
On top of running a crisp route, Boyd makes a stellar catch with a defender in his face threatening to break up the pass. Throughout the last sequence of the play, Boyd displays poise in fighting through contact while keeping his eye on the ball and where it was going to end up. At the catch point, Boyd goes up and plucks the ball out of the air gracefully, bringing it back down for a hefty gain.
Boyd has moments of intense concentration and he is near undefendable in those moments. He gets in his “zone”, not letting anything phase him from finding the ball at the most opportune moment. Boydâ€™s hands gravitate to the ball smoothly to snatch it before anyone else has a chance at it. In these moments, Boyd seems too have Stickum on his gloves. Nothing escapes his clutches, no matter how many defenders approach him or how they contact him. When Boydâ€™s hands are “on”, defenders are going to grow frustrated with how often Boyd will come down with the ball despite quality coverage.
5. Hands “Off”
Boyd has plenty of room to catch this pass cleanly, yet he lets it bounce off of him and drop to the ground. There is nothing stopping this play from working except for Boyd himself and he gets in his own way. Had Boyd settled down and let the ball come in cleanly, this play would have looked like a textbook “pitch and catch”.
While Boyd has fascinating flashes of concentration, he has equally frustrating lapses in focus. Everything else in the play may go right, but once the ball gets to his hands, Boyd lets the heat of the moment get to him and fails to complete the play. Why Boyd has this roller coaster of focus and concentration, I am not sure, but it will certainly give some offensive coordinatorss pause come draft day, if one of their biggest beliefs of success is consistency.
Tyler Boyd is an interesting player. He does not have any glaring athletic traits that make him special, garnering most of his success from savvy, awareness and precision. In essence, Boyd is a wiry Jordan Matthews. This sort of player needs to have a specific role, namely from the slot where he will be asked to work the middle of the field and in between zones. To some extent, Boyd is limited in where he will be able to win, but with as good as he is where he can win, there is no reason to worry about how many ways Boyd can theoretically win.
As bad as many want him to be a No.1 type receiver, Boyd would serve much better as a secondary piece complimenting a stronger “X” receiver, much like how Eric Decker served as a great complimentary piece to Demaryius Thomas. A receiver who can not assume the bulk of the workload and be used as a strong, versatile piece is not the type of receiever that should be taken in the first round. Boyd will be a productive player, but he should not be propped up as a top shelf receiver prospect.