clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Miles Boykin has a lot to learn, but could become a valuable receiver for the Steelers

The Pittsburgh Steelers claimed Miles Boykin off waivers, and he could be a valuable asset to the offense.

Baltimore Ravens v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Baltimore Ravens released wide receiver Miles Boykin on Monday. On Tuesday, Boykin found a new home in the AFC North, when he was claimed off of waivers by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It’s a smart signing for Pittsburgh, which has made a lot of smart signings this offseason. While Boykin’s numbers have been pedestrian thus far — he caught 33 passes for 470 yards and seven touchdowns in 40 games over three seasons with the Ravens — they don’t reflect Boykin’s overall value, or his potential.

Boykin played 417 snaps on special teams in Baltimore, where he was a solid contributor. Surely, this made him attractive to the Steelers. Also, at 6’4” 220lbs., his size makes him a good fit for a Pittsburgh offense that will run the football and use plenty of play action. Boykin was billed as a physical player when he came out of Notre Dame in 2019, where he was a teammate of Chase Claypool. He was also raw, and most analysts surmised he would need time to develop. Baltimore has not been great at developing receivers in recent seasons, so it’s possible that deficiency, their run-heavy offense, plus a hamstring injury which cost Boykin his first eight games in 2021 all played a factor in his limited production.

In Pittsburgh, Boykin will provide depth on the outside behind Claypool and Diontae Johnson. Boykin’s presence will not deter the Steelers from addressing the receiver position in the 2022 NFL Draft — they are still expected to take one in the first few rounds— but it does allow them to focus on the slot position, where Anthony Miller is the only receiver on the roster with considerable experience playing inside.

Here’s a look at what Boykin brings to the table at receiver, and at how the Steelers may use him.

The biggest area where Boykin could benefit the offense is in the play-action game. Pittsburgh is expected to significantly increase its play-action frequency in 2022. Having a 6’4” target who can run — Boykin clocked 4.42 at the Combine in the 40-yard dash — will help.

Boykin’s combination of size and speed is especially valuable on post routes, like the one we see below. If the run-action can get the safety to bite, a receiver can gain inside position on the corner. Boykin, at the bottom of the formation, does just that with a subtle, but effective, stab to the boundary with his left foot as he approaches the 30-yard line. This turns the corner, and Boykin subsequently breaks across his face to the post:

On this play, Boykin is lined up to the inside of a 3x1 formation. The play-action draws Dallas’ linebackers up, and Boykin releases behind them. Lamar Jackson is a little high with his throw, but Boykin’s size and length compensate easily. Boykin didn’t play much inside in Baltimore, but when Pittsburgh wants to give Mitchell Trubisky a big target at which to throw in the middle of the field, Boykin provides a nice option:

In this next clip, Jackson escapes the pocket, then throws a ball up that Boykin tracks and corrals. If you look at Boykin at the snap, aligned to the bottom of the screen, you can see the corner (25) release him inside before Boykin disappears from view. When he comes back into the frame, he’s being trailed by the safety (33). This was likely a coverage-check by the Seahawks to the motion from Baltimore’s H-back. It pulled the corner away from Boykin and put the safety on him over the top. That was a good matchup for Baltimore, which Jackson recognized:

While lobbing up 50/50 jump balls may remind Steelers’ fans of last season’s offense, the play design is much different. Baltimore maneuvered to get Boykin on the safety, where he could use his size and athleticism to capitalize. That’s cleverer than asking Claypool to win straight vertical routes against press coverage, which Pittsburgh did last year. The Steelers now have two receivers in Claypool and Boykin they can use in these situations, which should allow them to create good matchups like Baltimore did.

Here’s one more. On this one, Boykin, split wide to the left of the formation at the top of the screen, does a nice job of coming across the field to get into Jackson’s line of sight as he boots out of the pocket. Boykin is not Jackson’s primary read — he’s looking first to the high-low combo from the receivers to the side of the boot — but with neither one open he comes back to Boykin, whose size makes him an easy target for Jackson to locate:

All of the highlights above were off of play-action. While that was a huge part of Baltimore’s passing game, and should be an area where Boykin can help the Steelers, it also speaks to some of the limitations in Boykin’s game. He can struggle to separate from press coverage, and he needs to develop as a route runner on timing and three-step drop concepts.

On this play, Boykin, highlighted to the top right of the formation, catches a slant against two-high zone coverage. It’s a nice catch, and you can see Boykin’s value as a big target on routes like these where there’s a lot of clutter to navigate. Boykin, though, makes this tougher than it needs to be by failing to “fatten” his route. That’s coach-talk for how a receiver, when running slant against a two-high look, should change the angle of his slant to bring it more towards the middle of the field, thus keeping the safety out of the play. Slants versus 1-high looks stay “skinny,” or outside the hash; slants versus 2-high looks stay “fat,” or towards the middle. Had Boykin fattened his route here, he wouldn’t have gotten whacked and he may have had some room to run after the catch:

Boykin is also limited in his ability to make sight adjustments, meaning the ways in which a receiver is expected to alter his route based on coverage structures or rotations by the defense.

Below, we see one such example. Boykin, to the top left of the screen, has a vertical route against a soft cover-4 shell by Tennessee. With the corner aligned ten yards off, and the ball on the +22-yard line, there’s not enough room to fit the vertical over his head. Boykin should expect a shorter, back-shoulder throw as a result. Jackson makes the back-shoulder throw, but Boykin runs blindly into the coverage. The ball whizzes out of bounds around the 5-yard line as a result:

Two plays later, Boykin runs the same route against the same coverage. This time, Jackson initially looks to his right. When no one is open, he comes back to Boykin. The entire left third of the field is vacated by the defense, but rather than get himself open by working away from the corner, Boykin stands passively, attached to the corner’s hip. Jackson scrambles frantically in the pocket and is eventually sacked. You can see his frustration as he slams the ball to the ground at the end of the clip. Some of that frustration was probably directed at Boykin.

So, while Boykin will offer some big play ability and can be a viable option off of play-action when a defense is displaced, he has a lot to learn about route-running and adjustments against structured coverages. Fortunately, Pittsburgh projects as a play-action and pocket-movement passing game in 2022, not as one which will rely as much on timing routes and sight reads.

Also, the Steelers have a better track record of developing receivers than do the Ravens. New receivers coach Frisman Jackson has a reputation as a good teacher. He did a nice job bringing along D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel in Carolina. Hopefully, he can find similar success with Boykin.

In a perfect world, Boykin, with his athleticism and home-run hitting ability, could wind up being a thicker version of Martavis Bryant. Or, he could be Lance Moore, a player who is here and gone without much impact.

More likely, he’ll resemble Darrius Heyward-Bey. Heyward-Bey amassed just 517 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns from 2014-2018. Still, his field-stretching ability created the occasional big play and his acumen on special teams made him a valuable contributor to some pretty good Steelers’ teams. In our next article on Boykin, Geoffrey Benedict will break down his special teams play, and how that ability could make him a better signing than many suspect.