Tyler Boyd is headed to where only Pro Bowlers A.J. Green and Cris Collinsworth have gone before as Bengals rookie wider receivers.
At least 60 catches.
While Green and Collinsworth each caught 1,000 yards and combined for 15 touchdowns as rookies, Boyd has caught only one score and is on pace for 647 yards. But he's making his mark as a crafty slot receiver and heading into Sunday's game at Paul Brown Stadium (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) against his hometown Steelers, Boyd is in the NFL's top ten for third down catches with 21 and leads all rookie receivers in the category. Since A.J. Green (hamstring) has been out, Boyd is averaging five catches on any down and if he finishes the season like that he'll have 63 balls, four shy of Collinsworth in 1981 and two shy of Green 30 years later.
Green was limited again Thursday as his prospects to play Sunday hover at 50-50. No matter for Boyd. If Steeler Week isn't special enough around here, how about for the Pittsburgh native who grew up idolizing notorious Bengals-killer Hines Ward?
And while playing at the University of Pittsburgh, where the Panthers share Heinz Field with the Steelers, Boyd found himself picking the brain of current Steelers Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown during one of the Heinz changeovers.
"He's chill. He goes about his business," said Boyd after Thursday's practice.
Boyd has Brown's phone number but hasn't hit him up yet. He's content to fall back on a couple of conversations they had on the field. The 5-10, 181-pound Brown is a supersonic player headed to the Hall of Fame and Boyd is a 6-2, 197-pound rookie trying to get his feet wet inside and he's smart enough to take the best of Brown whenever Brown goes in the slot.
Boyd asked Brown how he gets it.
"How to take over the leverage when the DB is already where you want to go to go," Boyd said. "That's the hardest thing for a route runner. Get pointers that way. Say if I'm going to run my route inside and the guy already has inside leverage, what is his foot pattern to try and get him out of that lane?
"He's so quick and his feet are so hot, it's easy to move a defender with a guy like him moving that fast. I categorize myself more as a quick and shifty guy more than a straight runner. That's why I'm in the slot and that's why I ask him those types of things."
Ward was a no-brainer for a Pittsburgh kid to follow and Boyd could see a little bit of his versatile, all-purpose self in No. 86. But not because of Ward's 254 career third-down catches or his 57 career rushes that averaged 7.5 yards per. (Boyd has three for a 14.3 average this season.)
"What made him stand out was his ability to make plays without the ball in his hands," Boyd said. "You see a lot of plays where he just crushed the defender on a block that opened up a hole for the running back to go straight through. It was amazing to me because he wasn't the type of receiver you would think was aggressive like that. Sniff a guy out in the trenches and he was all about that."
He may be chasing Green for rookie catches, but he's also taking note of Ward.
"That's one area I want to help my game out," Boyd said. "Be more physical in blocks and help create plays. Do a wild play with the ball in my hands. He perfected that."
GREEN LIMITED: With the weather at nine degrees Thursday morning, head coach Marvin Lewis took the Bengals to the University of Cincinnati's bubble for the first time this season. Green was again limited, but all the Bengals want to know is if his hamstring is healed well enough (80 percent? 90 percent?) so he doesn't tweak it again. They may not have their answer until after Saturday's practice.