Is Jarrett Boykin A Replacement Player?

Jarrett Boykin will be slotted into the coveted No. 3 wide receiver next season. He's ready because of one person.
Jarrett Boykin will be slotted into the coveted No. 3 wide receiver next season. He's ready because of one person.
Jarrett Boykin

Wide receivers are known as the “shiny hood ornament” of the NFL because largely their production is tied to their quarterbacks; even a wide receiver like Larry Fitzgerald or Andre Johnson have had abysmal seasons with ineffectual quarterbacks behind center.  Furthermore, great/good wide receivers have left for greener pastures in free agency only to be met with an icy reception; Greg Jennings became the latest ex-Packer to move to Minneapolis and needless to say his production suffered when it was Christian Ponder and Josh Freeman throwing him the ball as opposed to Aaron Rodgers.

On the flip side, it almost seems like you can throw just about anybody into a jersey and make them a productive wide receiver if they are being fed the ball by Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees or Tom Brady; wide receivers without enormous physical talent Wes Welker, Pierre Garcon and again Jennings have all had great careers even if they don’t look like Calvin Johnson.  Of course, it’s not like a wide receiver is nothing without his quarterback, the question is how much.

The receiver I was most interested in was Jarrett Boykin; an unheralded, undrafted wide receiver out of Virigina Tech who initially signed on with the Jacksonville Jaguars only to be cut after a couple weeks.  After being picked up by the Packers, he was one of the surprise rookies to make the squad in 2012 with the likes of Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, James Jones Jermichael Finley, Donald Driver and Greg Jennings all on the roster.

I’ll be the first to say I didn’t notice his name on the transaction wire nor did I predict him to make the roster in 2012 (this was the year of the Torey Gurley vs. Diondre Borel debate) nor did I think he would he do much on the field, and needless to say I, along with just about everyone else was in for a pleasant surprise.  Now with two years under his belt, people are legitimately thinking of him as a viable #2/#3 receiver; he’s definitely not a #1 who can take the top off of a defense nor is he the shifty guy catches everything, but he’s a great role player who does everything good enough to contribute on a consistent basis.  Considering his rise from unknown prospect to perhaps one of the up and coming wide receivers, is this a product of good talent or a good quarterback?

Normally, it’s essentially impossible to differentiate between the two but in 2013 Boykin, along with all the other receivers essentially had half a season with Aaron Rodgers behind center and another half of a season with some other guy not Aaron Rodgers behind center.  My initial assumption was that wide receiver production would naturally fall without Aaron Rodgers but that the better the wide receiver, the less the fall.  To put it another way, if Calvin Johnson was catching balls from Peyton Manning you would expect fantastic production, but if “Blame” Gabbert was throwing him the ball, Johnson will still be able to produce but obviously not at the same level.  Compare that to just an average receiver and you would expect the difference in production in Johnson to be less.

To look at that I compiled a list of all the Packers receivers in 2013 who played significant snaps and saw how they fared with Aaron Rodger and without Aaron Rodgers using ProFootballFocus receiving grades.  I only used regular season games and excluded the week 9 game against Chicago since Rodgers got injured in that game and it’s likely that the Packers were just winging it after that.  I’ve also excluded Jermichael Finley and Randall Cobb since they were placed on IR before Rodgers’ injury so there really isn’t any data of them playing without him.

Rodgers Other QB
Boykin
snaps 244 380
PFF 1.6 1.3
Nelson  
snaps 560 489
PFF 15.4 0.2
Jones
snaps 288 471
PFF -1.1 -0.5
Quarless
snaps 297 264
PFF -1.7 0.3

The results are actually quite surprising.  Of all Packers receivers, the player who suffered the most without Rodgers was actually Jordy Nelson, who went from about 15 times better than the average wide receiver to essentially an average receiver without Rodgers.  Boykin on the other hand also saw a drop in efficiency going from 6 times better than average to 3 times; while still a significant drop, definitely better than Nelson.  James Jones ironically got better without Rodgers, but this is likely more due to the fact that Jones was battling leg injuries early in the season and only really started getting up to speed by the end of the season when Rodgers was out.

Keep in mind that Jones graded negatively regardless of who was throwing him the ball; so its likely that injury was more important than quarterback for Jones in 2013.  The other surprise is that tight end Andrew Quarless got better without Rodgers; my initial assumption was that maybe without Rodgers’ ability to throw deep Quarless got more snaps as a safety valve but in reality Quarless got just about the same number of snaps before and after Rodger’s injury.  Another possible explanation is that Quarless was due for a rise in grade simply because Jermichael Finley got hurt right before Rodger’s injury and his production would have been higher with Rodgers than without him.

I would say that best comparison is with Nelson because they play the same position and also Nelson had a relatively healthy season as well.  In that sense there are a couple of interpretations; first off is that Boykin is a better wide receiver than Nelson.  Nelson is definitely a top 10-15 wide receiver in the NFL so it seems unlikely that this could be the case.  Another possibility is that Boykin and Nelson have different skill sets that decrease differently without Rodgers; Nelson is known as a deep threat and Matt Flynn doesn’t have the arm to push the ball on deep routes.  While this is true, Nelson also plays a lot in the slot and is an accomplished slot receiver as well so it’s not as if Nelson is really pigeon holed into that role and the Packers played a very conservative game without Rodgers anyways.

My best guess is that Nelson is a lot streakier in his production than Boykin; Nelson will have very good games but can also have very poor games (wide receivers typically don’t get noticed when they have a bad game unless they drop a lot of balls, for instance a wide receiver could fail to get separation all day against a defender and its likely no one would notice) and naturally Rodgers boosts the chances of Nelson having a good game.  Boykin on the other hand likely is a more consistent albeit less explosive player; so while he maybe doesn’t benefit as greatly with Rodgers throwing him the ball, he’s able to produce with a less accomplished quarterback.

In the long run, obviously as long as Rodgers stays healthy, Nelson will continue to have better production than Boykin, however Rodgers is an injury risk at this point in his career with multiple concussions and now a broken and healed clavicle to worry about.  To answer my initial question, no Jarrett Boykin is not a replacement level player who simply got lucky in playing with a fantastic quarterback; he is an accomplished receiver in his own right who can contribute to the Packers offense.  This is a player who made the roster with a fantastic preseason showing in 2012 and it wasn’t Rodgers who was throwing him the ball.

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Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.

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  • Tim

    I get the theme of the article, and agree that boykins is a dependable, and up and coming type of player. Maybe more of a work horse than race horse. We need both on the team. I’m a little skeptical of the of the off statistic you’ve used. I’m a little skeptical of them in general. How did they arrive at their grade, what does it mean and what data went into it. I’m sure its meaningful, but how much weight to give to it? Example- Is boykins relatively higher grade a by-product of him having familiarity with back-ups, more practice time with a back-up qb, as he is also a back-up. Conversely, Jordy success maybe is a by-product of unfamiliarity. Not saying thats the case, but I would take Jordy Nelson way before Boykin no matter who the qb is.

  • John Zoul

    …Disraeli…”There are lies, damn lies, and then there are Statistics.” This is a classic case of an irrelevant statistic which in my view is meaningless.

    • http://www.lyrictrumpet.com Bearmeat

      Stroh – is that you? Sounds like it. Why do you have to be such a jerk?

      • marpag

        Since when did stating the opinion that a certain statistic is irrelevant and meaningless become the hallmark of being a jerk?

        Relax, huh?

        • http://www.lyrictrumpet.com Bearmeat

          My point was that you can criticize an article’s premise without attacking someone’s work.

          I guess I’m just sensitive about the division between constructive criticism and flat out criticism.

          I apologize.

          • Stroh

            If your trying ti critsize me you’ll have to do better than that! Pathetic…

            My skin/ego doesnt get hurt quite so easily. I’m no fragile pporcelain statue like most seem to be!

            • http://www.lyrictrumpet.com Bearmeat

              What’s pporcelain? ;)

              • lefty

                What’s ti critisize?

  • Slim11

    I think there are two reasons for Nelson’s “drop off.”

    First, injuries to Cobb, Jones and Finley. This allows opposing defenses to concentrate on stopping him before Boykin and Eddie Lacy runs. Lacy made some pay for that decision and Boykin received less attention as a receiving threat. Boykin’s hard work paid off here.

    Second, with QB’s not named Aaron Rodgers under center, the running game became a bigger weapon. More emphasis seemed paid to preparing a run game for Lacy . When Flynn returned and stabilized the QB play until Rodgers returned, the Packers won enough to stay in the playoff race.

    Without Lacy, Nelson’s numbers may have dropped more. Boykin, through hard work and good execution, was in a position to take advantage of the situation. Clearly, he did just that.

    • Oppy

      While it is not measurable, there is a lot to be said about chemistry between a QB and a WR, and I am sure that quite a bit of that exists between AR and Jordy.

      Think of how many of the connections between AR and Jordy that result in explosive gains are the product of a broken down play where one instinctively knows the other sees the same thing in the coverage and a on-the-fly adjustment to route and throw is made.

      Also, while there is no question precise placement of the ball (the likes of which few if any QBs can execute like AR) is one key to the AR/Nelson equation, Jordy’s almost unrivaled timing, precision, deception and hands are needed to haul in those pinpoint passes.

      Side note: Thomas states he feels Nelson may be a streakier player than some; if this is true, that is, in my opinion, only due to his recent spat of injuries over the last two seasons. Nelson’s postseason run in 2010 through the superbowl and into the full 2011 campaign was off the charts, he was completely dominant all season- the best WO in the league for nearly 20 games.

  • Mark in Portland

    The only receiver on the Packer roster who makes that TD catch in Dallas is Nelson. I love the way Boykin plays. It seemed that Flynn was quick to throw to Boykin. The last play in the Steeler game comes to mind All things considered, Nelson is the better receiver.

  • Will

    “Boykin on the other hand also saw a drop in efficiency going from 6 times better than average to 3 times; while still a significant drop, definitely better than Nelson.”
    I don’t think the math is right here. He was about 25% better than himself and that’s about 1.25 times better with Rodgers. This is really good. But he was just starting off in those initial games with Rodgers. He really came into his own later in the season.

  • http://www.lyrictrumpet.com Bearmeat

    Good points Thomas. IMO Boykin is the classic “hard work” guy. He’ll (as you stated) never be a #1 who can scare defenses, but in combo with Nelson/Lacy/Cobb, Boykin can help stress a defense to the breaking point. No one wants to give up 3rd and 6-8 frequently… or TD passes from 10 yards out. Boykin is REALLY good at both those things.

  • Tarynfor12

    The first thing that sticks out here like a sore thumb via the infamous ‘stat sheet’is the routes run by Nelson need a strong arm and as has been noted frequently by many,neither Tolzien,Flynn,Wallace had one that would fit the bill as even adequate in comparison to Rodgers.

    Boykin,whom I like,was the beneficiary of shorter passes coupled with a good YAC ability.

    The stat sheet presented here in all rights states that Boykin is the better WR and thus would tend to justify Nelson’s ranking of 84 of the(ahem) NFL 100 list and a clear indicator as to why he hasn’t been the recipient of a new deal.

    Stat sheets…the purest measure of talent…they’ll use stat sheets to build a solid wall against or for you but there really as thin as the paper there written on….The line from My Cousin Vinny would be best used in this description with his playing cards as bricks building a solid sturdy wall.

    • http://www.lyrictrumpet.com Bearmeat

      Good points Taryn.

    • funcrusher

      You’re spot on with the routes being the difference maker. Back-ups are rarely confident enough to make the back shoulder throws and deep passes to Nelson that Rodgers regularly makes. Instead, they dump it off to guys like Quarless and Boykin.

  • Tim

    The article is quite good in that it points out that boykins is coming into his own as a very good wideout – we are lucky as the Packers seem to have unearthed another wide receiver gem.

  • Ed Schoenfeld

    Regarding the comparison between Boykin and Nelson, there is always the issue that of the evaluator knowing (or not knowing) what a player actually was *supposed* to do on the play.

    There are ways of mitigating that subjectivity, one of which is used by Football Outsiders. For thos ewho don’t want to read the PhD dissertation in statistics, they ask their rater to compare a player’s peroformance to the average result of a player in the same *situation* (for example: down and distance to go, player split wide or in the slot, defender up or playing off, man or zone, etc.)

    For what its worth, they ranked Jordy #6 in DVOA (= comparison to average performance in the smilar situations ‘per play’) and #2 in what they call DYAR (which is a better measure of total contribution for the whole season as opposed to ‘per play’).

    Boykin ranked 23 in DVOA and 32 in DYAR.
    (FWIW, James Jones ranked 40th and 42nd, and while Cobb didn’t have enough targets to get a rank, his score for when he was in would have put him at 12th and 40th — remember the second score is for ‘total contribution,’ the first for ‘contribution per play’ so being out for multiple games with an injury is a big detractor.

    That seems to give a better ‘fit’ for what our eyes tell us when we watch a game — Jordy is a legit #1 receiver with any QB or system, and Boykin is well above replacement value despite having started the year 4th on the depth chart.

    Unfortunately they did not split out the performance of receivers with a givne quarterback, but for comparison’s sake Rodgers ranked 6th in DVOA (value ‘per play’), Flynn ranked 41st (including his stints in Oakland and Buffalo, so not all ‘good’ work), and Tolzien didn’t thow enough passes to qualify for the rankings but had score a little better than Ryan Tannehill, who ranked 27th.

    Here’s a link, for those who want one: http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/wr

    • Stroh

      Again the question is and should be. Is Boykin good enough to replace James Jones? To which I say resounding, YES!

  • LyerlaStoleMyBike

    Boykin is the man. Really excited to see what he can do this season. I think he perfectly compliments our big sideline receiver (Jordy) and our speedy slot receiver (Cobb) with his sure handedness and ability to find and create space. A great safety valve for Rodgers since we aren’t sure what we’ll get from TE this year. Also… Go hokies!

    • Tailsmen2009

      My opinion of the situation is that the second round draft pick should rise to occasion at specific moments right away during the new year. Then utilizing our experienced receivers’ to their full potential there after.

  • Oppy

    I have mentioned this a number of times before on this site, and I’ll say it again.

    Jarret Boykin is a playmaker waiting to happen, and if you watch how he moves and leverages defenders once the ball is in his hands, you’ll see a WR that has been one step away from breaking big plays regularly.

    While some WR’s do benefit from a QB putting the ball in the right place to lead a WR to a crease in coverage to be exploited, often what I’ve seen is Boykin pulling down balls in situations where most WRs would be downed almost immediately, but he manipulates defenders with feints and quick feet to create yardage.. As stated, he’s often been on the cusp of seeing large tracts of open field. He’s a break out player waiting to happen.

    This assessment could theoretically help explain why his PFF ratings are the less affected by AR’s absence than some others.

  • Stroh

    If your using Jennings as an example of WR beinh QB dependent than certainly Boykin is as well. I would say that’s taking it much too far tho. Jennings is a very talented player and if he fits your criteria then you can safely say that Jordy and Cobb are inthat category too.

    Truth is a lot if Boykins production came when Rodgers was out of the line up! His stats therefore are indicative of his talent not a WR dependent on his QB. Its also reasonable to assume his production will go up w Rodgers throwing to him. Boykin is every bit as talented and comparable to James Jones. Which is what this article Should be discussing!

  • Nopainnogain

    I am also optimistic for Boykin and don’t really see why some are so eager to push him down the team’s wr pecking order in favor of the rookies. however, I would advise caution trying to use PFF grades to ascribe alot of meaning in this manner (and this is coming from someone who thinks PFF is valuable and does a decent job of providing some smarter, less noise-filled numbers). the sample size discussed here is too small. there were too many ancilliary changes before and after Rodgers got hurt to really draw a comparison with Nelson and Boykin. Boykin did not have Cobb drawing attention away from him for either qb, while Nelson played alongside Cobb (and Finley) for a significant portion of his ‘Arod’ time.

    Once the backup qb’s went in, the focus shifted alot more to a short-yardage game than downfield action, limiting the opportunity for receivers to make big plays that would register with PFF’s grading system, limiting Jordy’s advantage on Boykin in that respect. PFF does not correct for quality of opponent, which distorts things since Rodgers was hurt during the cupcake portion of the schedule. It also does not factor in defensive attention paid to a given player (ie. if a wr is going against a team’s #1 corner, or their #3 corner). I think it does ok comparing players that are used in a similar manner, but there are limitations. In addition, the grades are a cumulative number based on how many net standout plays or major errors a player makes. It doesn’t indicate how many times greater one player is to another.