In Boykin, Jags’ loss is Packers’ gain
GREEN BAY, Wis. — The letter arrived at Jarrett Boykin’s off-campus apartment at Virginia Tech earlier this spring, but he wasn’t there to receive it. It came with a Jacksonville Jaguars logo and return address on the envelope, and so Boykin, already having moved on with his football life with a tryout at the Green Bay Packers’ rookie orientation camp, told his roommates to open it for him.
“Lack of performance compared to the other receivers that were out there,” Boykin said, quoting the explanation he received from the Jaguars for why he was cut at the end of the team’s post-draft rookie camp.
In case you’re scoring at home, the six wide receivers on the Jaguars’ roster as of Sunday evening were rookie first-round draft pick Justin Blackmon and five guys you’d have to be a supreme fantasy footballer to know a lot about: Laurent Robinson, Brian Robiskie, Mike Thomas, Cecil Shorts III and rookie Kevin Elliott.
And the six wide receivers on the Packers’ roster: Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Randall Cobb, Donald Driver and … Boykin.
That’s right, Boykin, who wasn’t even good enough in the Jaguars’ estimation to keep around for organized team activity practices, landed a spot on the Packers’ 53-man roster as part of the deepest wide receiver corps in the NFL. His path from tryout guy at the rookie orientation camp in May – after the Jaguars cut him, the Packers brought him in without signing him and without making him any promises – to feel-good story at the final cutdown has been a remarkable one.
“He’s certainly gotten better and has made the most of his opportunities,” wide receivers coach Edgar Bennett said. “The kid continues to grow. Those are the things that you look for, their overall improvement. Smart kid in the classroom and is able to take that onto the practice field and you see it on game days.”
Indeed, while the all-time leading receiver in Virginia Tech school history (184 catches for 2,884 yards) said he doesn’t “really pay attention to stats, like in college, (where) my coaches there can tell you the records and all that stuff,” he did lead the Packers in receptions and receiving yardage in preseason (13 receptions for 166 yards). He finished with a flourish, catching five passes for 82 yards and a 12-yard touchdown in the team’s preseason finale Thursday against the Kansas City Chiefs.
“He’s a fine young talent,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “Boykin’s done a real nice job fitting in as far as learning all three positions, (he) knows how to separate, there’s a real natural route running to him – and that’s a credit to what he brought here when he arrived. I think he’s put together a nice camp.”
There are no guarantees that Boykin sticks on the 53-man roster all season – with only seven offensive linemen, plus suspended linebacker Erik Walden (one game) and defensive end Mike Neal (four games), the roster’s far from set – but he certainly did enough to impress that the Packers felt compelled to keep six wide receivers coming out of camp for the first time during general manager Ted Thompson’s eight-year tenure. (The last time the Packers kept six receivers was 2001.)
“He had a very good camp. I think he was one of those guys who did improve all through the summer. And that improvement sort of accelerated over the course of the last several weeks,” Thompson said. “He’s one of those guys who felt like earned a spot.”
Not only that, but Boykin earned a spot over Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel, two wide receivers who spent the entire 2011 season on the team’s practice squad and received large raises to stick around last year when other teams came calling with offers of 53-man roster spots. Borel cleared waivers and accepted a second year on the Packers’ practice squad; Gurley also cleared waivers but signed on with the practice squad of the Minnesota Vikings, the team that tried to sign him last year.
While the 6-foot-2, 217-pound Boykin has excellent receiver size, he ran just a 4.69-second 40-yard dash in advance of the draft, and he confessed that scouts have dogged him for his speed for years. He worked with longtime NFL assistant coach Jerry Sullivan before the draft to sharpen his route-running, which made an impression on NFL MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who said Boykin ran his routes as well as some of his veteran go-to receivers.
“I’ve always heard speed, speed, speed. I just try to let it go in one ear and out the other and just try to play fast in practice and in games,” Boykin said. “Just try to get open and make plays.”
He certainly did enough of that to earn a spot in Green Bay. As for the Jaguars, Boykin said he moved on quickly from the disappointment of being released. Ask him what they were thinking when they released him, Boykin shrugs.
“Honestly, I’m not even sure,” Boykin said. “I’m always out there to try the naysayers and the critics wrong. I’ve always been in underdog mode. It just makes you want to go even harder, go out there and just work even harder to prove to someone, ‘Hey, I can do this.’
“I took it as a challenge, as another opportunity to go out there and prove myself. I just wanted to hit it full steam ahead and make the best of it. I just took (being released) for what it was and tried to get better, make sure it didn’t happen again.”