When one door is abruptly slammed shut without much warning, another door usually slowly creaks open.
That’s exactly the opportunity with which Packers’ wide receiver Jarrett Boykin has been presented.
With news that Jordy Nelson underwent knee surgery Monday that should keep him out for the next four-to-six weeks, Boykin will now have the biggest chance of his career to show Green Bay what he’s capable of doing given the snaps.
The second-year man out of Virginia Tech is expected to assume wide receiver #3 duties in Nelson’s absence behind Randall Cobb and last year’s NFL touchdown reception leader James Jones. Boykin was relatively quiet in his rookie year, only tallying five grabs for 27 yards. But given that he was behind Greg Jennings, Cobb, Jones, tight end Jermichael Finley and others, it would be tough for anyone to make a statistical impact.
Now with Jennings gone and Finley not seeing many targets so far in camp, Boykin’s 6’2″ 218-pound frame can finally flash that 4.58 speed that helped him become the all-time leading receiver in Hokies’ history with 184 catches for 2,884 yards. Boykin, whose skill set is better suited to play on the outside than the slot, will allow Cobb to play inside more. And with how slippery Cobb has proven to be in his two year NFL career, Boykin should see less attention on the outside.
Boykin also has a chance to lead the Packers in preseason receiving for the second straight year. He helped assure himself of a roster spot last year with 13 grabs for 166 yards, many of them from the perennially underwhelming Graham Harrell and rookie B.J. Coleman.
But if the young wideout is going to be a real difference maker while Nelson rehabs his knee, he will have to improve on his ability to separate from corners, especially if he is manning the outside receiver spot opposite Jones. Boykin has above average size and strength, but isn’t exactly the quickest receiver in the world in getting open against starting-caliber NFL corners. But–as he showed at Virginia Tech–he does have the hands and the play making ability to threaten defenses once he does have the ball in his hands.
Talent aside, it still won’t be all gumdrops and unicorns for Boykin to make a name for himself on offense either. The emergence of Eddie Lacy has given Green Bay an element that frankly didn’t exist last season. And Rodgers has already shown more trust in Cobb, Jones and even Finley, so Boykin will be at best the fourth option on an admittedly loaded offense. While preseason numbers are still somewhat meaningful, there will be a big difference when he goes from facing undrafted rookie free agent Joe Smith from Southwest Bumwad State to stalwart defenders like Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown when the Pack take on the Niners in Week One (should Nelson not be ready to go).
It’s also important to remember that general manager Ted Thompson has little invested in Boykin. He signed as a free agent after being cut by Jacksonville last May. Green Bay could have easily cut him at any point last year, especially when the injuries started piling up. But Thompson and McCarthy didn’t do that, which leads me to believe that they see something in Boykin–something worth keeping around.
And given all the plays that Boykin will see over the next month, Packers fans might just see the same production that the Packers’ brass foresees. If Boykin under-performs, it certainly won’t be because of a lack of opportunity.