The Pittsburgh Steelers knew they needed some veteran experience in a young wide receiver group. That’s a important reason why the team added Miles Boykin in free agency.
Outside of fourth-year receiver Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool’s two years in the NFL account for the only other professional experience of the top four players as both George Pickens and Calvin Austin III are rookies.
A battle for the last one or two spots on the receiver depth chart for the Steelers’ 53-man roster will be something to watch during training camp at Saint Vincent College where the Steelers report Tuesday. I listed former New England Patriots special teamer Gunner Olszewski as a favorite to make the team, but do not overlook Boykin in that battle.
The Steelers haven’t kept six wide receivers on the roster for the past two seasons, but that might change with Boykin and Olszewski’s veteran talents put into consideration. Olszewski’s primary experience in the NFL comes as a returner and has only been targeted 12 times in his career.
Boykin, however, is the complete opposite. Both entered the NFL in 2019, Olszewski as an undrafted free agent and Boykin as the Ravens’ third round pick. But Boykin at least racked up 56 targets across 24 starts before his injury riddled 2021 season. Boykin told Steelers Now during minicamp that his injuries were a broken finger and a lingering hamstring issue, but that both were in the past.
Boykin played 35 snaps on offense last year compared to 143 on special teams, which shows he can be an asset to Danny Smith in different ways than Olszewski. While the former Patriot is more of a return man, Boykin operates better on the boundary to help in both kick and punt coverage as well as kick and punt returns.
“Just try to be the difference maker,” Boykin said during minicamp about his expected role. “Whether that’s special teams or receiver, they know I can do a lot of things. I’m excited to have the chance to be a playmaker here.”
Boykin’s presumed role on special teams would be a fast player with a large frame at 6-foot-three, 220 pounds. That’s bigger than Darrius Heyward-Bey, who carried that role for the Steelers for years as a 6-foot-1, 201-pound receiver.
But when you look at Boykin’s build, it’s too obvious how his athletic profile resembles his former Notre Dame teammate of three years, Claypool. Claypool is about an inch taller without 18 pounds more on his frame.
But both ran a 4.42-second 40-yard dash and hit 2.57 seconds on their 20-yard splits. Boykin had better vertical and broad jumps during his NFL Scouting Combine, but only marginally so. The two were happy to be in the same locker room again.
“That’s my brother man,” Boykin said of Claypool. “We spent three years–pretty much every day–together. We always kept in touch. We did the jersey swap and everything. It’s great to be his teammate again and being able to be with him.”
What Boykin brings that the other Steelers’ options do not is experience and size. Johnson is a smaller, shiftier receiver, as are Austin and Olszewski. But Boykin, Claypool and Pickens are each 6-foot-3 or taller and run sub-4.48-seconds in the 40-yard dash.
That mix of athletic talents in a receiver room would be valuable to a young offense in search of a new identity.
“It just adds diversity,” Boykin said of what he brings to the table. “Obviously me and Diontae were in the same draft class. But I feel I bring different things to the receiver room that maybe they haven’t seen before.”
“Whether that’s on the field or how I see things and help the younger guys out,” Boykin continued. “Me and Chase have a relationship where we help each other back and forth and we have a good relationship. It adds chemistry and diversity.”
That chemistry adds to what Matt Canada and Danny Smith want to put together under Mike Tomlin. Boykin isn’t going to be a major storyline of training camp. But his veteran presence could end up as one of the more underlying pieces of a young offense as they figure out just who they want to be when the season kicks off.
Barring multiple injuries, Boykin won’t be a primary receiver for the Steelers. But if he’s simply a special teams resource who can sub in at receiver when injuries start to tally up, that alone makes him a worthy addition to the 53-man roster.