Despite having just entered the NFL this year and not having much playing experience to speak of, Tyler Boyd impressed throughout training camp and the preseason. In limited playing time in four preseason games, Boyd recorded five catches for 92 yards and a touchdown. Those would be impressive numbers for any player, but especially a rookie from whom no one quite knew what to expect.
Boyd was the toast of the rookie class in training camp. He could regularly be seen exciting fans and making good plays like this.
But, he really started to show what he could do in the preseason. The impact was almost immediate, as he made his first huge play on a pass from AJ McCarron during his first game in a Bengals uniform.
Two plays later, Alex Erickson caught a touchdown pass that converted an effective drive into a much needed game-tying touchdown right before the first half ended. He followed the play up the following week with this incredible 26-yard catch from Andy Dalton that helped put the Bengals in position for Jeremy Hill to punch the ball into the endzone, giving the Bengals their first lead of the game.
Boyd was less effective against the Jaguars and Colts, although he didn’t really need to be particularly impressive with how well he played against the Vikings and Lions. Boyd is listed as the No. 3 receiver on the Bengals’ depth chart behind fellow newcomer Brandon LaFell, despite LaFell only recording one catch for eight yards in the preseason.
Granted, the Bengals sat LaFell due to a hand injury against the Vikings and Lions and didn’t give him any action against the Colts, likely to keep him healthy. But, it’s still true that Boyd proved himself as a reliable option for both Dalton and McCarron, so expectations for his regular season debut will be higher than you would expect for a third string, rookie receiver.
Then again, maybe it’s not so crazy to think that Boyd could have a breakout game in New York. The Jets boast the great Darrelle Revis as well as solid starter Buster Skrine at the top two cornerback spots. Revis is one of the few cornerbacks in the NFL talented enough to potentially keep A.J. Green in check throughout the entire game, while Skrine could do well against LaFell, who appears to still be adjusting to his new system. Furthermore, don’t forget that Tyler Eifert is still recovering from his ankle surgery and will not play.
Therefore, it would stand to reason that Boyd could potentially be given the opportunity to be the Bengals’ top receiving option in this game. It could be a similar situation to the Bengals’ last game against the Jets in 2013, when former Bengals receiver Marvin Jones led the team with eight catches on as many targets, recording 122 yards and four touchdowns.
So far, Boyd has done a solid job of showing off his competitive nature, powerful hands, and outstanding body control that made him look so valuable to an NFL team. But, possibly even more importantly, he has shown that many of the criticisms against him, such as the fact that he struggles with separation on deep routes and doesn’t utilize his body enough to control catches, aren’t actually serious problems. Personally, I would go as far as to argue that he would have been a first round draft pick if his senior season (in which Pittsburgh turned more to the run game) and some off-the-field issues (a DUI in March 2015) had gone a bit differently.
That’s why, against the Jets, you would have to think that Boyd will be poised to either have a breakout performance, or to make a few early plays and start taking the Jets’ attention off of other key pass catchers like Green, LaFell, Giovani Bernard, or Tyler Kroft. Regardless of how it all plays out, his presence should be enough to really give a boost to the Bengals’ passing game and make the first game of the regular season all the more fun to watch.