Tyler Boyd grew up cheering for Hines Ward and worked out with Marvin Jones. But he watches A.J. Green.
As he walked through the Bengals locker room Saturday a day after the Bengals basically put him in their Opening Day lineup in the slot with a second-round pick, he clearly had an idea of the power structure at his new team.
"I love A.J. He's one of the guys I watch," Boyd said after making his Paul Brown Stadium media debut Saturday. "The way he's built. Not just because he's a five-time Pro Bowler. Not just because he's one of the greatest receivers to be here. Just the way he competes. He's not that big. I'm not really that big. I watch a lot of how he wins against bigger corners. How he works his release, seeing how he stacks his routes, how he stacks defenders. The little things I watch in his game to try and see how I can help my game."
The Bengals are trying to replace Jones and Mohamed Sanu the same way they got them in 2012. The draft. After Boyd's news conference, the Bengals in the sixth round took Ole Miss wide receiver Cody Core, a 6-2, 205-pounder who played in the shadow of first-rounder Laquon Treadwell.
It's going to be different with Boyd. It is going to be yards after catch and looking for space instead of moon balls like it was with Jones. There will be some. But the 6-2, 200-pound Boyd thinks his game resembles Jones' college teammate, San Diego's Keenan Allen, a shifty type with similar jackrabbit feet.
What he does share with Jones is struggles with his college offense that he thinks took away his deep threat ability. Boyd had three different quarterbacks in his three seasons like Jones had QB ups and downs at Cal and he said "defenses didn't respect the running game."
The knock has been Boyd isn't a deep threat a la Jones because of a 4.5ish 40 and a Pitt bubble screen offense that didn't have many routes wandering past 10 yards. But Boyd did have 15 TDs in his first two seasons, along with 15 yards per catch.
"I showed it my freshman year, my sophomore year," Boyd said of his vertical threat. "There are a lot of great things Marvin does with his hands. He's a great catcher. I thing I've got more versatility. You can maneuver me anywhere on the field . . . I guess I have to move around in the slot and do quick little things."
Boyd showed up Saturday morning and stepped off his flight looking like he was ready for work. He was by himself. No suit. Just nice pants, nice shirt, and a backpack. After a heady conference call with the Cincinnati media Friday night in which he described himself as "great," on a few occasions, he was a little more subdued Saturday.
He grew up watching the diva era of receivers, but he comes into a league where the great receivers are now the silent, stolid statesmen, such as Green, Julio Jones, and Larry Fitzgerald, whose Pitt records Boyd assailed. The last time Boyd spoke with Fitzgerald was after last year's Panthers spring game.
"We sat down to eat with him and he just told us to be a leader, don't follow," Boyd said. "Make great decisions. Be a man in everything you do. Just be mature. Be myself. Don't go out there and act like somebody I'm not. Don't get the big head. Help the guys around me."
This hasn't been an easy trip. His father has been in and out of jail. His mother, a social worker, has held down three jobs to keep it together. He says he's more of an A.J. Green guy when it comes to comporting himself.
"I'm not a me guy. I never brag or cry about getting touches," Boyd said. "I would love to touch the ball at all times, but I'm just the type of player if you put me in position I'm going to do everything I can to help the team."
And his team is now the Bengals. Not "The Stillers," as his Western Pennsylvania accent pronounces "The Steelers." He is fiercely proud of making the long road he took from tough, small Clairton, a gritty 13 miles south of Pittsburgh. Boyd once told a reporter, "Everybody said (Clairton) doesn't play (good teams) and I'm not going to do well in college."
He joked with some of the Bengals reporters Saturday that he would find the photo of his youth taken with his brothers in which he's wearing the jersey of Steelers wide receiver and Bengals killer Hines Ward.
Ward wore No. 86 in black and gold. Boyd is wearing 83 in stripes because he's always had a 2 or 3 for luck. In college he wore 23. Sometimes he talked to Steelers coach Mike Tomlin since both the Steelers and Panthers use Heinz Field. And he was watching last January's Wild Card Game.
"Intense game. Our arch nemesis," Boyd said. "It's like the Pitt Panthers and Penn State. "Always intense, brutal. Those are always the best games to watch even if you're not a fan."
He should fit right in.
With the 55th pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, the Bengals select Tyler Boyd from Pittsburgh