Whether Jarrett Boykin knew it or not, he left an impression on Tori Gurley well before he even stepped into the Green Bay Packers’ locker room.
It started during Gurley’s time at the University of South Carolina, when he and his teammates would seek out the nearest TV on Saturday mornings to watch Boykin and his Virginia Tech Hokies play their home games only four hours away.
What Gurley saw was the epitome of a playmaker in Boykin, a 6-foot-2 wide receiver who went on to break Virginia Tech’s all-time records for receptions (184) and receiving yards (2,884).
“I’ve been a fan of him since he was at Virginia Tech,” said Gurley, a 6-4 wide receiver who spent all of last season on the Packers’ practice squad. “If we had a prime-time game, I would watch Va. Tech and Tyrod Taylor and Boykin out there, and I enjoyed watching him play. He’s a great teammate and a good football player, and I wish him luck Thursday.”
Thursday’s preseason finale against Kansas City is what it’s all about for Boykin, Gurley and the other three undrafted wide receivers trying to leave a mark before Friday’s NFL-mandated cutdown to 53 players.
With 37-year-old Donald Driver appeared to be locked in for a 14th NFL season, there’s no certainty the Packers will keep more than their five returning receivers. They didn’t last year.
However, that doesn’t deter Boykin. He’s used to this grind.
Despite his record-setting run with the Hokies, his professional football career has been an uphill battle from the start. His 40-yard dash time of 4.70 seconds at the NFL combine played a large role in him going undrafted.
He later signed with Jacksonville as a college free agent only to get waived three days later. It wasn’t until he came to Green Bay for rookie orientation on a tryout basis that he finally got noticed enough to sign to a 90-man roster.
In Green Bay, he’s shown the ability to create separation and get the most of his 10¼-inch hands. In the Packers’ second preseason game against Cleveland, Boykin led the Packers with five catches for 63 yards.
If there’s a speed problem, his teammates don’t see it.
“He’s a fast guy, but he’s also heady and smart,” backup quarterback B.J. Coleman said. “He’s very savvy, if I had to describe him. He understands the coverages and understands the weaknesses of the defense when they’re presented. He does a good job and has a good feel for being able to slide into some of those open holes. As you can tell, his play speaks for itself. He’s made a lot of plays for us.”
Along with their five returning receivers, the Packers have Gurley and Diondre Borel, who both opted to stay on the team’s practice squad last season rather than sign to active rosters elsewhere late in the season.
Both appeared to be candidates to not only compete for a roster spot, but also push the aging Driver. However, both sustained groin injuries midway through camp to stunt that effort.
Meanwhile, Boykin has continued to gain traction as the dark horse. While he appears to be a more viable candidate for the practice squad than the active roster, he’s kept things interesting.
Boykin’s play in recent days has garnered acclaim from Packers coach Mike McCarthy and offensive coordinator Tom Clements.
“It’s really important because you just try to be as consistent as you can be on all bases and every day,” said Boykin of the importance of the final week of the preseason. “Really just attack, be aggressive and make plays — just make a point. Go out there and lay it all on the line.”
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.