On April 18, the Ravens did what few would have considered a reality just three years earlier: cutting Miles Boykin.
Boykin, a third-round pick out of Notre Dame, was viewed as a tremendous complement to first-rounder Marquise “Hollywood” Brown. Though he suited up for all 16 games his first two years, Boykin missed nine games in 2021 due to a bevy of injuries, including to his hamstring and finger. The 6-foot-4 wideout posted just 470 receiving yards on 33 receptions in the Charm City; little sustained production sparked the Ravens to release Boykin.
“Every time I stepped onto the field, I was doing something to help our team win,” Boykin said. “We were successful there my first three years, so I have no regrets about being in Baltimore.”
While Boykin’s NFL future hung in the balance, he did not have to wait long to determine his new home. The Tinley Park, Illinois native was claimed by the Pittsburgh Steelers on April 19, swiftly crossing enemy lines to join his new team.
With OTAs and minicamp in the books, Boykin has quickly grown acclimated to his new organization and has enjoyed his time in Pittsburgh thus far, saying his body “feels great.”
“Being able to get in the building and meeting all the guys on the team and getting around the culture, getting around the coaches, it’s been great for me,” Boykin said. “I felt like a rookie again, at least for the first two, three weeks, just because of the whole process. You get used to doing a certain thing for three years in a row, and then it all changes up, but it’s definitely a blessing to be able to be in the building and be around those guys.”
Having played against Pittsburgh’s squad two times a season, Boykin already held baseline familiarity with some Steelers players. One he had especially connected with was former college teammate Chase Claypool. Though Boykin said he and Claypool never necessarily spoke about joining forces in the pros, the two have remained close — even working out in Florida with Mitch Trubisky in late June.
“Me and Chase have always had a relationship,” Boykin said. “We’ve been like brothers ever since Notre Dame. He’s someone who I consider a lifelong friend, and he’s just a great teammate to have.”
Boykin spent one year with defensive lineman Chris Wormley before Wormley was sent to Pittsburgh in a rare swap between the foes. Now, Boykin is reunited with the former Raven, who has helped usher him into his new home.
“I talk to Worm consistently,” Boykin noted. “Even in Baltimore, he was a great teammate. I was just excited to [have] one guy that I knew before that I get to play with.”
Although he had pre-existing connections with several current Steelers, Boykin has relished getting to bond with new teammates.
“I gravitate towards a lot of the guys in there. It’s been great,” Boykin said. “They’ve really accepted me, and it’s great just talking ball with a bunch of guys.”
While a typical offseason addition may never have stepped foot in Heinz Field — now Acrisure Stadium — Boykin is distinct in having opposed the Steelers six times in his career. Consequently, the wideout feels he and teammates have discussed his keen insight, reaching more profound discourse.
“When you have three years of experience, you get to go in and just get to talk about different ball and what you’ve seen, or things that I’ve seen when I played against the Steelers, or what they saw then they [were] playing against us,” he said. “It’s just cool to be able to connect on that type of level.”
Since Boykin’s debut in 2019, the Ravens have collected 33 wins, while the Steelers have amassed 29. Moreover, the two made the playoffs in two of the three seasons; year in and year out, each is viewed as a first-rank franchise with rich legacies of success, ownership and city roots. As such, it may not be surprising to learn that Boykin feels the organizations have tremendous overlap.
“I’ve seen more similarities than I’ve seen differences,” Boykin said. “You have two of the best organizations to play for in the NFL. I couldn’t ask for anything more than to be with these two teams in my career.
“It’s one thing to say [you have a chance at winning a Super Bowl] and another thing to say it and mean it. When you play for those two organizations, you say it and you mean it.”
Early on, Boykin has cherished his time with Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, with whom he got acquainted during the 2019 scouting process. As you may have expected, Boykin sees shades of John Harbaugh in Tomlin.
“Oh my God, the similarities are ridiculous,” Boykin said. “Every day, they have a focus that they want to talk about, or a quote that they’ve seen, or something that they saw in the news that they want to talk about. And that just makes us all better as players. It’s just like things that you remember for the rest of your life. It helps you be a better man, not just a football player.”
Ahead of the Steelers’ player report date to Latrobe, Pennsylvania on July 26, Boykin emphasized his goal is to learn the playbook. In his preliminary studies of offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s system, Boykin has gleaned the intent to distribute the ball and the importance of versatility.
“He doesn’t want to have a weak point in the offense,” Boykin said. “I just think we have so many weapons this year especially that he’s been spreading the ball around. Just find ways to get playmakers the ball.”
The Steelers will flash terrific depth and skill at receiver in the form of fellow 2019 draftee Diontae Johnson, Claypool and rookies George Pickens and Calvin Austin III. Boykin believes that even in a star-studded room, the wideouts bring unique assets.
“You look at our receiver room, and I don’t think you could look at any receiver and say, ‘Okay, these guys are the same’ or ‘Ok, these can guys do the same things.’ We all do different things. We all have different skillsets,” Boykin said.
In terms of his own talents among Pittsburgh’s receivers, Boykin believes his frame and tenacity will stand out — something which dates back to his and Claypool’s time in South Bend.
“I think my size, first and foremost,” Boykin said about what he offers. “I think me and Chase bring a toughness to the receiver corps that, in the NFL, I don’t think you really see a lot. We’re gonna block. We play nasty. We kind of do the things that people don’t really want to do as receivers.”
Fundamentally, Baltimore and Pittsburgh are distinct offensive teams. The Ravens ran the ball on 43.6% of snaps last year, while the Steelers were at 36.9% — third-lowest in the league. A lack of receiver involvement does not frustrate Boykin, though.
“As long as we’re winning, I don’t care if we run the ball 100 times,” he said.
Another deviation between the two offenses is at quarterback. Boykin played all three of his seasons with Lamar Jackson as the starter, flashing elite scrambling and playmaking ability. Boykin underscored how much “fun” his time was in Baltimore with Jackson and wholeheartedly endorsed an extension for the fifth-year QB.
“Lamar just makes things happen. Absolutely, I think Lamar should get paid,” Boykin stressed. “I don’t think you could monetize the things that he does for that organization or that team.”
In minicamp and OTAs, Boykin had a change of scenery under center, working with Trubisky, Kenny Pickett and Mason Rudolph. While one could envision a cutthroat competition for who earns the lion’s share of snaps, Boykin mentioned a collaborative effort striving for perfection.
“I just see the chemistry. Everywhere they go, they go together,” Boykin said. “They talk about plays they mess up. They do something right, they’ll harp on that. I think that there’s a clear transparency between quarterbacks and receivers and what they expect as a group.”
Boykin’s responsibilities are widely viewed to transcend just the offensive side of the ball. The 25-year-old provides value as a gunner on special teams; in his three years in Baltimore, Boykin suited up for 417 special teams snaps, which he calls a “release.”
“You get to not be a receiver for a play,” he said. “You get to do whatever the hell you want to do for one play. That’s why I love playing gunner because, just in my eyes, no one’s gonna be able to stop me from releasing 50 yards down the field and making a play.
“As receivers, our skillsets, a lot of times, don’t necessarily align with special teams. But when you’re a receiver and you can play special teams, I just think it makes you that much more valuable.”
Moreover, Boykin has liked working with Steelers special teams coordinator Danny Smith.
“He’s definitely been able to show me things that he thinks I can do here and just ways that I can affect the game in the special teams. He’s been a great coach for me so far,” Boykin said.
In 2021, Pittsburgh granted its return duties to receiver Ray-Ray McCloud. With McCloud departing in free agency, general manager Kevin Colbert brought in former All-Pro Patriot specialist Gunner Olszewski. Boykin said he frequently chats with the fellow newcomer, who is eager to showcase his return abilities.
“We were talking about, ‘Oh, do you fair-catch the ball a lot?’ He’s like, ‘Nah, I’m not fair-catching anything,’” Boykin said.
With the Steelers heading to St. Vincent College in under two weeks, Boykin feels like he’s back at Notre Dame, where the Irish used to practice at nearby Culver Academy. His first go-around in Latrobe will be with Claypool as his roommate.
“We’re talking about how there’s gonna be nothing to do there,” Boykin said. “Just talk ball. It’ll be fun. Play cards, relax and just bond as a team.”
As is customary for him, Boykin does not have any personal goals for 2022, eschewing them for team goals: winning the AFC North and, ultimately, the Super Bowl. While he hopes to line up against former Irish teammate Troy Pride Jr., Boykin said if he had to pick a highlight, it would be going back to Baltimore to face former teammates, with some of whom he still keeps in touch.
“I’m ecstatic to be able to play them twice a year,” Boykin said. “There’s a little, I don’t want to say resentment, but it’s definitely a little chip on my shoulder every time I go play Baltimore.”
Boykin will get his opportunity to prove the Ravens wrong as early as Week 14 if he can solidify a spot on Pittsburgh’s roster in the coming months. Overall, the receiver has his eyes set on making positive contributions to the Steelers in every facet.
“I’m just excited to get on with the new season on a new team and get out there and go compete,” he said.
For the full interview with Boykin, check out the one-on-one podcast in the player below.