Boykin uses 'edge' to climb WR ladder
Jarrett Boykin was running out of time and options when he arrived for a tryout with the Green Bay Packers in the spring of 2012.
The all-time leading receiver at Virginia Tech had been cut by the Jacksonville Jaguars. If Green Bay didn't work out, there was another tryout offer on the table, but it wasn't nearly as appetizing.
Washington wanted to convert him to tight end, but if there was one thing the 6-foot-2, 218-pound receiver was certain of entering the NFL, it's that he wasn't a tight end.
"They said they were going to turn me into a Shannon Sharpe-type deal," Boykin said. "But I was thinking in my head like ... put on weight? There's no coming back from tight end or whatever they're trying to make me play, H-back to receiver. I've been a receiver my whole life."
Fortunately for Boykin, he caught the Packers' eye in the workout and never had to exercise Plan B.
Two years later, Boykin smiles when he reflects on that turbulent offseason. In his current situation, Boykin seems as certain to make the roster as receiving stalwarts Jordy Nelson or Randall Cobb, though he refuses to claim any such comfort.
The criticism about his 4.74-second time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine has been replaced with conversations about how Boykin's role will expand in the offense with veteran James Jones signing with Oakland this offseason.
After practically redshirting his rookie season, Boykin was thrown into action in October when Cobb was sidelined by a broken leg. He responded with 49 catches for 681 yards and three touchdowns over the next 12 games.
Boykin has had the occasional drop in the first week of training camp but seems to have a significant lead over second-round rookie Davante Adams in the push for the No. 3 job.
Just don't tell him that.
"It's funny, the first day I met Boykin, I told him he was going to be good one day," cornerback Davon House said. "What makes him good is he feels like he could get cut tomorrow, so it makes him play with an edge."
Boykin signed with Jacksonville as an undrafted free agent because of his relationship with receivers coach Jerry Sullivan, whom he'd trained with at Atlanta-based CES Performance. In the midst of their training, Sullivan was hired by the Jaguars and Boykin decided to follow.
The partnership last three days before Jacksonville gave Boykin his release. The team said it needed room for other free agents.
After the disappointment, he moved onto Green Bay where he faced another uphill battle in a stacked receivers room. Donald Driver had just restructured his contract, and practice-squad holdovers Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel were back after turning down active-roster opportunities elsewhere.
Boykin stated his case by catching everything that came his way in camp. His 13 catches for 166 yards led the offense in the preseason. When the Packers opted to keep a sixth receiver, they chose him over Gurley and Borel, who have combined to play in one NFL regular-season game since.
"We're actually really confused why he got let go in Jacksonville," Nelson said. "We were caught off guard when they said he got cut down there and came to tryout here, and it didn't take long for him to make his mark. I think the first year he was on the team, we kept six and that was the first time we kept six in awhile. That just goes to show they knew they couldn't let him go."
With the receivers, he's become a poster boy for what it takes to earn your spot. As quarterback Aaron Rodgers illustrated Friday, it was Boykin's work ethic and willingness on special teams that allowed him to survive cutdown day.
Once he got his opportunity, it was his mental preparation that allowed him to stay there.
Boykin started in only two games with Rodgers before the quarterback suffered a broken collarbone, but was targeted 15 times in catching 13 passes for 192 yards and a touchdown.
"The biggest thing that helped Jarrett is that he became an expert of our offense and he spent a lot of time studying our offense," Rodgers said. "Getting in my ear, wanting to hear what he needed to do to get on the field, what I expected of him in certain situations and certain route concepts. If you're consistently in the right place at the right time, you can't help but make plays. The ball is going to find you."
The Packers didn't make a big push to re-sign Jones, who signed with the Raiders on a three-year, $11 million deal.
The receiving corps got significantly younger without the eight-year veteran — Nelson is the only receiver older than 24 — but Boykin could be the ideal replacement in an offense that often features three receivers.
Boykin still carries himself with the same focused demeanor, though those who know him best say the receiver is a jokester once he leaves the field.
When he's in the locker room, it's all business. The chip he carries on his shoulder isn't leaving anytime soon.
"Really, I came up here to do everything I could to prove this is the position I've grown up playing," Boykin said. "I know I can play this position. I just try to do everything right and whatever I can to make a statement."
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.