Few members of the Green Bay Packers original 90-man roster had more cards stacked against them than receiver Jarrett Boykin.
Despite holding a number of receiving records at Virginia Tech, Boykin went undrafted in April's NFL draft. He signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars a week or so later but was cut following a rookie camp. A last-chance tryout in Green Bay finally found Boykin a home in the NFL.
Once there, it would have been easy for Boykin to fade into the background of the most talented position on the Packers' roster.
Green Bay brought arguably the NFL's deepest set of receivers into camp, with five established players and two more 2011 rookies who many assumed were capable of making the jump to the active roster. Of the undrafted class in 2012, more attention was paid to basketball-star-turned-football-player Dale Moss than the unassuming Boykin.
Even his own receiving coach at Virginia Tech thought Boykin was a long shot.
Yet three months after his tryout, Boykin successfully cracked the 53-man roster of a Super Bowl contender.
He clearly beat out Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel, two receivers who turned down active roster offers to stay on the Packers' practice squad last season. Some thought the emergence of Gurley and Borel this spring could make veteran Donald Driver expendable.
Driver stuck around, Gurley, Borel and Moss received pink slips Friday and Boykin survived.
Just how did he pull this off? Let's take a look back at his preseason film to find out.
Boykin made it difficult to keep him off the roster by staying consistently productive this preseason. He led all Packers receivers with 13 catches, 166 yards and three 20-yard receptions.
The production was a result of a number of things Boykin did well.
For starters, Boykin's ability to create separation at the line of scrimmage made him a tough cover for backup cornerbacks.
Look here against the Kansas City Chiefs Thursday.
Nothing fancy about the Packers offensive look on first down. Boykin lines up split out to the right (bottom of screen), and the Chiefs counter by bringing their corners up to press each receiver. A big adjustment for young receivers as they transition into the NFL is beating man-press.
The corner gets his hands on Boykin early, but he beats the press with an outside-inside move that leaves the defender trailing.
At this point in the screen grab, Boykin has done his job. He's running free and the cornerback is beat. Packers quarterback Graham Harrell just needs to wait for the linebacker to clear to the flat and it's an easy pitch-and-catch. Harrell does just that, and the Packers get a big gain to kick off the second half.
On at least two other occasions against the Chiefs—including his touchdown grab—Boykin beats a press look and gives his quarterback an easy throw.
But getting open is just one piece of the puzzle. Catching the ball completes the process, and Boykin has displayed a very dependable set of hands early on.
The mechanics of catching the football are good for Boykin, but he's aided by a pair of monstrous hands. They measure 10 1/4". Now measure your own hands. It's no wonder Boykin can wear 4XL gloves. There's also no doubt that hands his size are a tremendous asset for a receiver.
Let's take a quick look at how his hands have helped this preseason.
Late in the second quarter against the Browns, Boykin extends to make a difficult catch in traffic. Here's the screen grab:
Catch radius is also important for a receiver, and Boykin shows his off here. Harrell put some mustard behing this particular throw, and it wasn't delivered in an ideal location. Boykin makes the difficult catch look rather routine.
Same game, same type of catch, same result below.
Boykin extends his catch radius and hauls in another difficult throw. This is a catch NFL receivers are expected to consistently make, and Boykin has little trouble doing so.
Here's one more against the Browns that shows off Boykin's hands.
Harrell makes a nice throw into traffic, threading the needle between three defenders. Boykin then does everything right in making the reception. He catches the football away from his body, all while concentrating on the pass and not the oncoming linebacker that he can surely sense in his peripherals. It's text-book form in catching a football.
What about his speed, you say? Boykin plays faster on film than his stopwatch numbers suggest.
Remembering back, the knock on Boykin in the leadup to the draft was straight-line speed. He ran in the 4.7-second range at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, all but guaranteeing he wouldn't hear his name called at the end of April.
Of course, nothing seen from Boykin this preseason suggests he's actually some kind of speed demon. But on his first live-game target against the San Diego Chargers, Boykin showed that he's got some sneaky quickness.
The Packers call playaction with Harrell on the first snap of the second half. The run fake sucks up the deep-half safety, and Boykin runs past the cornerback who is now all by himself at the back of the defense.
Boykin has plenty of separation, as the screen grab shows. A good throw from Harrell makes this a likely touchdown. Of course, Harrell overthrew Boykin and everyone forgot about the play.
And to be fair, Boykin is running past Gregory Gatson, not Darrelle Revis. Gatson is now on the Chargers practice squad. But maybe, just maybe, there's more to Boykin's straight line speed than just a number.
One final thing screen grab to look at.
Late against the Chiefs, quarterback B.J. Coleman rolls to his right as pressure breaks down the pocket. Boykin is clearly running a deeper route, likely a 15-yard out or deep corner. But as Coleman escapes the pocket's contain, Boykin breaks off his route and comes back to help his quarterback.
He positions his body to box out the charging cornerback, leaving Coleman an easy throw on the run. Boykin then secures his fifth and final catch of the night. Given everything he did right, I'd be willing to bet receivers coach Edgar Bennett gave Boykin a high grade on this play. That kind of football IQ can make all the difference.
The numbers obviously make it easy to figure out why Boykin made this roster, but the film shows a young receiver that is polished in several areas of playing the position. Boykin may not contribute much in 2012—he's likely to be inactive most weeks if all five receivers ahead of him are healthy—but the Packers have a player here.
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