Brandon Boykin's on-field production still at high level
How a player performs once he hits the field is everything to some, but it can never paint the whole picture when building a roster.
Nowhere is that better illustrated than by looking at cornerback Brandon Boykin—a player that consistently grades well for PFF when on the field, but has now been jettisoned by his third team in 10 months, and clearly has other factors at work behind the scenes.
Boykin was PFF’s 29th-highest-graded CB last season—21st the season before that. In 2013, his best season in the league, he was arguably the top slot corner in the game, and had a higher PFF coverage grade than everybody except Vontae Davis.
The now former Panther has a positive PFF grade in every season of his career, and hasn’t been beaten for a pass longer than 33 yards over the past two seasons, a timespan over which he has allowed just one touchdown.
After the 2013 season, PFF was pushing for Boykin to see an expanded role as an every-down outside corner. Instead, his career went in the other direction, and he began to be cut loose from a series of teams in quick succession.
Boykin’s play never dropped, but he has struggled to see the field lately. In 2015, the Steelers seemed particularly reluctant to give him significant playing time; he played just 23 snaps before Week 13 of the season, when injuries forced them deep into the bench. From that point onwards, he earned a +4.7 cumulative grade (remember that 0.0 is considered average on PFF’s cumulative scale), did not allow a touchdown, and recorded a pick and two passes defensed. If not for the impressive play of Ross Cockrell over that same time, Boykin would have been Pittsburgh’s best-performing defensive back.
In normal circumstances, that level of production would cement his role in the defense and help him head into the 2016 season with momentum, but the Steelers elected not to re-sign him, and let him walk in free agency.
Carolina signed Boykin as a free agent to a one-year contract that paid him $80,000 in signing bonus, now cutting him before he even reaches OTAs, with the only change in circumstances being the Panthers going draft-heavy on cornerbacks.
For a team to cut a player so soon after signing him—before he has even seen the field in a Panthers uniform—suggests there are off-field issues at work, if for no other reason than that they have no new on–field information to work with.
For Boykin, if any prospective teams are just looking at his tape, they will see an excellent nickel corner that has been consistently impressive over his entire career, but as with all players, what he does on the field is only part of the story. Teams get to experience these guys as professionals in the meeting rooms, in social situations, and in a variety of other different ways off the field, and without speculating exactly what it is that’s causing problems for Boykin, clearly there is something at work other than his play.