Bills Archetypes: Miles Boykin, WR, Notre Dame


Over the last several weeks, NFL Draft prospects have been poked, prodded, and interviewed by evaluators across the country. Each player entering the NFL Draft has some sort of measurable data now on record, and if they don’t, then they will by the end of their Pro Day. Physical attributes such as weight or arm length carry more value to some positions than others. The same can be said of the timed drills such as the 40-yard dash or the three-cone drill. While film rules all, these data allow evaluators to paint a picture of the athlete. With an athletic profile created, general managers and personnel can now interpret and project that player into their coaches’ offensive or defensive system.

General Manager Brandon Beane and Assistant General Manager Joe Schoen have a ton of experience scouting college and pro players. Beane helped GM Dave Gettleman from 2013-2017 to construct the Panthers’ draft boards. Schoen helped evaluate players for the Dolphins in 2013, where he served as the director of college scouting, then in 2014-217 as the director of player personnel. So while neither front office executive was making the decisions, their roles were critical to their general managers’ overall philosophy when it came to college and pro players.

Cover 1’s Fernando Schmude and I rounded up all of the players that these three men have helped sign or draft and generated the athletic profiles that they tend to look for. This will possibly help us narrow down targets that the Bills may be looking at ahead of the 2019 NFL Draft. Today, we are going to analyze and interpret the wide receiver position. Based on the front office’s history, we found averages across all measurements.  So I used the average measurements of past Beane, Schoen, and Director of Player Personnel Dan Morgan signings and picks in the following areas to narrow down possible targets. First, I started with a 40-yard dash time of 4.53 seconds. Since all wide receiver types are lumped into this (slot and outside), I used Ray-Ray McCloud’s time of 4.53 as the lower threshold. The next qualifier was a 10-yard split of 1.6 seconds, which was also higher than the average of 1.56, but again, McCloud set the lower threshold for this metric. Finally, I used a receiver’s vertical leap as the last qualifier, and while the average was 35.3 inches, the lower threshold was set at 34 by the Bills’ recently drafted Austin Proehl.

With the data sorted, none of those qualifiers really had wide receiver Miles Boykin in trouble of not making the cut. He tested as an elite athlete and, like many, I had to go back to the tape once that testing was revealed.

Boykin is another one of those annual stories about a prospect who dominated the pre-draft process, mainly through his athletic testing. Boykin passed testing with flying colors, registering an elite RAS score of 9.93, which led the WR class. He also led all wide receivers in SPARQ, and that includes Ole Miss WR DK Metcalf.

It’s that kind of testing that made everyone go back to the tape to investigate why he wasn’t being discussed during his Notre Dame career, and it didn’t take long to realize it was partly an opportunity issue.

Boykin finished his career with 77 receptions for 1,206 yards and 11 touchdowns, but most of that production came in his final season in South Bend. Prior to 2018, the Illinois native only registered 450 snaps, 293 of which came in 2017 with Brandon Wimbush then Ian Book under center.

Irish quarterbacks simply missed far too many opportunities to hit Boykin during his career, a lot of the time by a long way. Countless times, Boykin cleanly beat defenders and the QB couldn’t get it to him or they threw to another target.

I believe that a lot of draft analysts, including myself, may simply have missed how athletic Boykin is. Even on some of his simplest routes, you can see his fluidity and flexibility. The ankle flexibility seen on this route is all over his tape.

Head Coach Brian Kelly was aware of the athleticism and matchup problem he was, and it was the basis for Boykin’s role in the Irish offense and why I would love to see him paired with QB Josh Allen. Boykin was their matchup guy, the player whose number was called when a team was playing man defense and they needed someone to separate for their young QBs. He runs such smooth ins, digs, posts, and comeback routes, and he is able to gain separation because of his athleticism. Here, the defensive back is in off coverage and there is just no way for him to break AND close the distance enough to make a play on the ball.

Boykin is big enough to be moved all over the field. He can play X, Z, or even in the slot, which makes him valuable. But the Irish loved to put him on the backside of 3×1 sets, usually reserved for the best WR. This role is typically one that has an array of routes run by a guy who can beat 1-on-1 coverage. Coaches call this series an isolation series because you typically get man coverage on the backside of this formation. Any time the Irish needed a first down they looked to Boykin, and he consistently converted his receptions into first downs. He converted his receptions into first downs the 8th-most in all of college football in 2018 (74.6 percent). On third downs, that percentage jumped to 88.2 percent, which ranked him 13th in the country.

The Irish used him in a similar manner in the red zone, an area where Boykin was on the receiving end of 10 catchable targets. Of those 10, he hauled in nine receptions and five touchdowns. Four of those receptions and three touchdowns were on either 3rd or 4th down. That is the type of mental toughness you want from your star receiver — the moment is never too big.

Boykin would click very well with Allen because he has good awareness and feel for when the quarterback is in trouble. He easily uncovers, finds green and can take it to the house on any given play.

The 2014 Illinois player of the year does need to continue to build up his strength, though. His lack of strength and forward-bend running style creates issues against big, physical cornerbacks. Corners who had help over the top or simply weren’t afraid of getting beat deep played him physically.

His chest is a target for press corners, and if they land a strike, he doesn’t have the hand usage skills at this moment in time to clear his frame. Here you see the corner land a strike. Boykin tries wiping it, but his hand placement is too far up the arm. Receivers want to try and wipe a jam near the elbow area, not the shoulders. The bad placement allows the defender to disrupt the release and subsequently turn and run with Boykin. But Boykin makes up for it at the catch point.

Another thing I noticed is that sometimes he can be bullied into the chalk along the boundary and at the catch point. His body control at the catch point was inconsistent, at times almost voluntarily falling to the turf as the ball was dropping in. It seemed as though he was so focused in on bringing the ball in that his feet would stall or he would lose his balance, thereby minimizing yards after the catch. It’s more of an inconsistency thing for him, but given his athleticism and highlight reel catches, it was odd.

But my biggest worry is his hands. He has 9 7/8″ hands and, as you saw in some of the prior clips, he does double catch from time to time. Some of that has to do with the ugly balls he was catching, but some of it also has to do with his hand strength and catch technique. But in the NFL when conditions aren’t ideal and the windows are tighter, will those double catches turn into pass breakups? Boykin led the Irish in drop percentage in 2018 at 7.1%, having dropped five passes, but those were the only drops he had in his entire career.

Overall, I believe that Boykin has a very high ceiling and is an early 3rd-round pick. Early in his career, he projects as a Z-wide receiver, which will put him off the line of scrimmage and away from press coverage. But he does have X-receiver traits that will flash from time to time. His lack of production will scare away some teams, which could include Buffalo, but I think he is exactly the kind of receiver they should take a chance on. His size and ability to naturally separate would pair well with Allen. He’s a receiver that could grow alongside the young QB. If Boykin’s game incrementally advances, he could be a true number one receiver down the road for Josh Allen.