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Making the case for a Miles Boykin return to the Steelers

On the most recent episode of the Steelers Preview podcast, Jeff Hartman, Bryan Davis, and I were debating which players who are slated to become unrestricted free agents from the Steelers would potentially stay or go for 2024. While the three of us had a tendency to agree on a number of players, one player who I fully expected to stay while my counterparts both had going was wide receiver Miles Boykin.

For this particular discussion on the podcast about Boykin, we all typically came down to making sure the Steelers maintain one of the two special teams players in Boykin or Cornerback James Pierre. I was surprised that both Jeff and Bryan wanted to keep Pierre and show Boykin the door while I was feeling the exact opposite.

While Jeff and Bryan made the case that the Steelers did not utilize Boykin in the passing game and could potentially have a much better option, that was something with which I didn’t disagree. By the Steelers running the ball at an almost 3 to 1 ratio whenever Boykin was in the game on offense, it’s not surprising that he was only targeted four times in 2023, even though it was one more target than in 2022.

So why should the Steelers stick with a player who in two seasons with the team had five receptions on seven targets for 28 yards?

To me, it’s all about what the Steelers need out of a fifth wide receiver. While Boykin only had five catches in two seasons, he had 15 special teams tackles over the same time period. While only logging 253 offensive snaps in two years, Boykin had 523 special team snaps. For the record, these numbers are not typical of a wide receiver. Boykin’s 15 tackles over the last two years is second most of any wide receiver only behind the recently retired Matthew Slater. As for the 523 special team snaps, only Slater and KhaDarel Hodge of the Atlanta Falcons are wide receivers who logged more snaps on special teams the last two seasons.

Narrowing things down to just last season, there were only two NFL wide receivers who logged more than 300 special team snaps and 100 offensive snaps. The only other player than Boykin was Ben Skowronek of the Los Angeles Rams. But how was Skowronek as a receiving option? Heonly had eight receptions for 66 yards but did score one touchdown.

So what is the point of all these numbers? Having a wide receiver who could fill in the final spot on the depth chart that is a significant special teams contributor is not easy to find. For this reason, holding on to a player like Miles Boykin, who can be emergency depth while filling out the key special team role, is an important position on the team.

As for the argument for Boykin over James Pierre, assuming it came down to one over the other, finding cornerbacks who log a lot of special team snaps is not a rarity. In fact, there were 32 cornerbacks in 2023 who logged at least 200 special team snaps as well as 14 other players who were listed simply as “defensive backs” according to Pro Football Reference. For wide receivers with 200 special team snaps, there were only eight. So when it comes to looking for significant special-teams contributions from the cornerback position, it’s not nearly as difficult to find mostly because the skillset to play the position lines up much more with what is needed for special teams.

Here is another number from 2023 which might surprise some Steelers fans: James Pierre was more expensive than Miles Boykin. James Pierre had a $1.3 million contract while Boykin signed a veteran salary benefit contract which paid him $1.08 million but only counted against the Steelers salary cap $940k. But when looking at either player, neither is one who would cause any significant hit against the Steelers current salary cap.

I’m not saying that Steelers should break the bank for Miles Boykin or it is the end of the world if they move on, my point is there is value in what he brings as both the final wide receiver active on game day and his work on special teams. If he is willing to sign for another veteran salary benefit contract, which is almost as cheap as they come, I am in favor of it.




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