There isn’t much doubt as to who the best Bengals rookie was in 2016.
That was Tyler Boyd, who was drafted out of Pitt with the No. 55 pick of the 2016 NFL Draft. One of the best college receivers from 2013-2015, Boyd became an instant college star upon suiting up for the Pittsburgh Panthers. He caught 85 balls for 1,174 yards with seven touchdowns as a freshman before grabbing 78 balls for 1,261 yards and eight scores in 2014.
In the 2015 offseason, Boyd was suspended for the first game against Youngstown State after a DUI charge from an arrest that took place in June. He still finished with a career-high 91 catches in 2015, but only for 926 yards and six scores. Pitt didn't have much of a passing game though and relied heavily on the run, which helped lead to Boyd's drop in production.
Boyd also averaged 24.4 yards on kickoff returns and 8.8 yards on punt returns, which could be an added bonus for him in the future. However, Alex Erickson took over those roles in 2016 for the Bengals, which prevented Boyd from ever getting a chance to show what he can do there.
Prior to the draft, Boyd was ranked as NFL.com's 48th-best prospect. CBS Sports had him ranked 47th overall. Yahoo Sports ranked Boyd as their 40th-best prospect, ahead of Will Fuller who was a first-round pick by the Texans.
That would suggest the Bengals got great value in Boyd by landing him late in Round 2, and he certainly made a big impact for the team in 2016. He was taken by Cincinnati in hopes he could help offset the offseason losses of Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu.
Boyd ended up having the fourth-most catches and receiving yards of any rookie receiver in 2016, despite being targeted just 81 times, which was third among Bengals. His workload with the team was very sparse. He was targeted four or less times in five of the first nine games, but that was when A.J. Green, Brandon LaFell and even a limited amount of Tyler Eifert were playing.
But once Green went down, Boyd became a featured part of the offseason, catching 21 passes for 231 yards from Weeks 11-14. However, his role diminished again over the final two games as he caught just four balls for 64 yards on seven targets.
That’s when LaFell and Cody Core (combined for 40 targets over final 2 games) really started to come on and become the top two options. That may have been by design to see what LaFell could do in this offense since he is becoming a free agent, while Core was a sixth-round rookie who was a big unknown at that point.
Now the Bengals have a better feel for both players heading into the offseason, and with Boyd, they’re confident he’s their long-term answer as the slot receiver.
That’s the role I envision Boyd keeping for many years to come. He was very solid in that role as a rookie for a team that is very stingy about playing young guys. I expect him to make a big jump next year and possibly become the No. 2 option in this passing game.