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One Of NFL's Under-The-Radar Stars, Boyd Ready To Emerge As Leader Of Bengals' Starry Receiver Room

Tyler Boyd now carrying the torch handed to him from A.J. Green.
Tyler Boyd now carrying the torch handed to him from A.J. Green.

Tyler Boyd, the sandpaper-tough slot receiver with flypaper hands on pace to become the third-leading Bengals receiver of all-time, knows.

"I know, I know. I say it every year. 'The sky's the limit,"' Boyd says. "I think every year is the year. But, you have to show people. We have to turn heads. Until we do that, we're average Joes."

The Joes, of course, are two of the reasons the Bengals don't think they should be so average in 2021. Star quarterback Joe Burrow with running back Joe Mixon and shake it with the dangerous trio of wide receivers Boyd leads and he says they just have to stay healthy.

"Nothing average about Joe (Burrow). He's going to lead us to the Promised Land," Boyd says. "Joe looks great. He looks like he's ready to play a game right now. I'm not worried about Joe. He makes magic when his number's called.

"It's like, 'How do you stop these guys?' I'm pretty sure there are guys already looking across the league and figuring out what guys got and I know we're one of the teams that guys are going to worry about."

Boyd loves his new receivers room, where his new position coach, Troy Walters, calls him, "Joe's security blanket." But he says there is one thing it has to do that hasn't been done lately.

"We have to do better after the catch," says Boyd, of a category the Bengals have finished in the bottom half of the league the last three seasons. "Not to say we're not doing well after the catch, but we need to stretch them. It's time to break the tackle and go. We have to be playmakers. We do everything else well. Separate. Catch the ball. But we have to stretch it."

With A.J. Green's departure a few months ago, Boyd has gone on a five-year journey from 21-year-old apprentice and 2016 second-round pick to one of the team leaders, the position room chairman and the Lord of Leverage as one of the savviest slots in the game.

Heading into the last three years of his 2019 extension, if he puts together three seasons like his last three, that projects to the 566 catches that pass everybody on the Bengals all-time list but the Holy Grail of Chad Johnson and Green, the man he calls "my big brother." The ensuing 6,658 yards would be 40 yards shy of Cris Collinsworth's fifth-place total.

"A.J. was a show guy," Boyd says of Green's leadership brand. "He wasn't that vocal, but he showed you how to do it. He taught me off-season workout stuff. The little things."

If the pace doesn't surprise you, maybe the fact he leads the offense with the most Bengals games played with 71 does. As the Bengals go through voluntary practices, it doesn't surprise Uzomah, drafted a year before him, or Mixon, drafted a year after him.

But at 26, it takes Boyd aback.

"It was shocking. I came in the youngest guy and now I end up being the oldest guy," Boyd said of the receivers room. "I feel like a young guy, but I've got the experience. I'm going to embrace it and just get better. We've got great players at that position.

"There's not much I can tell them about playing football. We're loaded," Boyd says. "My job is to make sure guys are on top of their craft. Stay motivated, stay confident and just make plays … It's not baseball, it's not golf. You need a collective crew to be on point."

And he'll remind you, it's not like this is anything new for him. He had to grow up quickly when they played what amounted to 24 straight games without Green.

But what is new is that this is suddenly a position blessed with two of the biggest prime-time receivers in college football acquired in the last two drafts. Tee Higgins, last year's first pick in the second round, has returned a towering monster, 6-4 and maybe 220 pounds, after what looks to be quite an impressive offseason in the weight room following one of the best rookie seasons in Bengals history. He's joined by this year's fifth pick in the first round, Ja'Marr Chase, Burrow's tag-team partner in the NCAA record book at LSU.

But don't lose Boyd amid the stars because he's been one even if you didn't know it.

Since Boyd and Andy Dalton stunned the Ravens out of the 2017 playoffs on their last play of the season from 49 yards away on fourth-and-12, he's had more catches than Tyler Lockett, Jarvis Landry, Cooper Kupp, Adam Thielen and Mike Evans and more yards than Thielen, Cupp, Kenny Golladay and JuJu Smith-Schuster.

And check out Boyd's last three seasons compared to former Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh's break-out seasons from 2004-2006, according to Pro Football Reference:

Boyd: 245 catches for 2,915 yards and 16 TDs on 11.9 yards per catch. Houshmandzadeh: 241 catches for 3,015 yards and 20 TDs on 12.5 yards per catch. Houshmandzadeh ended up with 507 catches, fourth on the all-time list. With 321 career grabs, Boyd is 43 from passing Eddie Brown into eighth on the list.

No question, says Uzomah and Walters. Boyd is one of the most underrated players in the league.

"He's underrated because his game is not a sexy splash, great speed where he just wows you. He just makes plays," Walters says. "To me, he's as dependable as it comes. He makes the tough catches in traffic. He comes to work every day, great attitude, positive energy, enthusiasm. Love for the game that really spreads across the whole team. Since I've been here (beginning of last season), I just don't remember him missing anything. A walk-through, a practice, a training camp day. Anything."

That didn't happen until he suffered a concussion in week 15 that limited him to one catch in the last three games, costing him a third straight 1,000-yard season. He can't wait to go into this one with Higgins and Chase.

"(Higgins) looks like a completely different player than last year," Boyd says. "He came into camp injured and now he's been through a season. Once you've been through a season, you kind of know you belong. He's got that confidence. I see that in him now and that's what we need.

"His catch radius," says Boyd, running through his strengths. "His hands are pure, kind of like mine. He's starting to develop into a good route runner. He's striding out. He's starting to become a whole different player in terms of getting better in each area. Catching, running routes and running after the catch. I think this year he'll make a lot more plays after the catch. That will be the biggest improvement in his game."

As for Chase, "He's smooth man. All you have to do is turn on the tape and it speaks for itself. I watched him all (2019) when they were undefeated and he and (Justin Jefferson) were my two top guys that year. It's going to be crazy."

Here's how Uzomah describes Boyd's uncanny ability to separate for the biggest of catches as he puts himself in the shoes of the unfortunate DB:

"He can run one route four different ways and you don t know what's coming. And he can run 20 different routes the same way. Is it an out? An in or curl or a corner or … what am I defending against?"

Boyd knows in order to get to the sky, you have to go from the ground up. That's why he urged his teammates to show for the voluntaries.

"It's always going to be there," Boyd says of a lost vacation. "It's more valuable to me getting a relationship with the new teammates and just trying to win. We're not a winning team right now, so you can't really settle for less."