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Boyd on the Brink

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Since 2000, the University of Pittsburgh has yielded a pair of 1,000-yard NFL wide receivers in Antonio Bryant (two seasons over 1,000-yards) and Larry Fitzgerald (seven).

If his recording-setting numbers prove to be any sort of indicator, current Pitt receiver Tyler Boyd looks to follow in their footsteps. Boyd’s junior season has seen him become a catalyst for a team that intended to depend on running back James Conner before the All-American back was lost for the season with a knee injury.

The 6-foot-2 Boyd allows Pitt coaches to get creative, as they often ask him to carry the ball out of the backfield, return kicks and even throw the ball on occasion. Boyd’s regular season stats saw him accrue 1,434 total yards:  873 receiving yards, 294 rushing yards, 264 return yards. He also passed for 67 yards.

Looking at his career at Pitt in its entirety—with one game remaining—Boyd has recorded 248 receptions, 3,306-plus receiving yards and 21 touchdowns. The former two numbers are school records, topping Devin Street (202), who plays for the Dallas Cowboys, and Bryant (3,061), respectively.

While some players’ statistics might be inflated by the systems they play in, Boyd’s numbers instead serve to substantiate his ability. Boyd excels at multiple aspects of the game, which CBS draft analyst Dane Brugler and Pitt color commentator Pat Bostick both elaborated on.

 The duo pointed out Boyd’s strong and reliable hands, precise route running, body control and ability to attack the ball in the air as pinnacle traits. While often thought of as a given, Brugler stressed the importance of being able to secure the ball.

“It’s kind of weird to say it,” Brugler said, “but that’s the most underrated part of being a productive wide receiver is just catching the ball, and Boyd is excellent at that.”

Pitt’s opposition further supports this claim.

"Golly, Tyler Boyd is a heck of a player,” said North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora. “There were times where [defenders] were all over him and getting their hands on the ball and he still makes the catch."

Despite the plus qualities, Boyd is not quite an elite prospect. The biggest knocks on Pitt’s Swiss Army knife are his size—he’s a wiry 200 pounds— and his “average” athleticism, according to Brugler.

“I think size is really the biggest thing working against him right now,” Brugler said. “Unfortunately, that’s not something he’s going to be able to improve all that much for the next level.”

Despite Boyd’s limited frame, he’s remained healthy over his entire career while being asked to carry the football 58 times in three seasons, including a career-high 35 in 2015.

Boyd runs in the neighborhood of a 4.5 forty, according to Brugler, not “the blazing speed that you want, but his field speed and his route speed is more than adequate and what you want at the next level.”

Weighing Boyd’s entire skillset, Brugler sees him as a player best utilized in the slot, but he does have the ceiling of a No. 2 wideout on the outside. He also said that he could see teams using Boyd similarly to how the Miami Dolphins use second-year pro Jarvis Landry, despite the fact they are different kinds of players. In 26 career games, Landry has 147 receptions, 1,409 yards and eight touchdowns.

Going beyond physical traits, Bostick, a former Pitt quarterback, praised Boyd’s intangibles as well.

“Tyler is a great kid,” Bostick said. “He’s got a great personality [and] he practices with great attention to detail and effort. I think his ability to take thought and coaching and turn it into action and apply it on the field is why he’ll make a great pro.”

While he was charged a DUI last June, both Bostick and Brugler viewed the incident as nothing more than an aberration. Nonetheless it will be scrutinized by NFL teams.

“I think that was out of character, and no one knew that more than Tyler,” Bostick said. “That was just him making a mistake, and I think he’s learned from Pitt Tyler Boydit.”

Boyd remains mum on whether he’ll enter the NFL Draft this spring, but if he does – where will he go?

While his size and the general apprehension teams have of taking receivers high might hamper him, Brugler said that the Clairton graduate should be a late first or early second-round pick. If he were drafted in the first round, he’d join Fitzgerald and Jonathan Baldwin and the only Pitt receivers to be first-round selections.

The last Pitt player selected in the first round current St. Louis Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who was picked  No. 10 overall in 2014.

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