Since being drafted by the Eagles out of Georgia in the 2012 NFL Draft, cornerback Brandon Boykin has emerged as one of the best young playmakers on the Eagles defense. But despite a dearth of talent at the cornerback position over the past few seasons, Boykin still has yet to start a game on the outside. Now on the last year of his rookie contract, Boykin is making a push for the available starting role opposite Byron Maxell.
Speaking to reporters after OTAs on Tuesday, Boykin said that he spoke to Chip Kelly about his desire to start, and that Kelly told Boykin he would get a shot. Still, Boykin doesn't appear overly optimistic about his chances. Via Zach Berman of the Philadelphia Inquirer:
Will Brandon Boykin's role change this year? Boykin: "Probably the same. Just keeping it a hundred."— Zach Berman (@ZBerm) June 2, 2015
Chip told Boykin he'll compete for outside spot. Boykin: "I'm going to hold him accountable to that just like he does to us."— Zach Berman (@ZBerm) June 2, 2015
The coaching staff's handling of the Boykin situation is one of the more puzzling storylines of the Chip Kelly era. As the secondary struggled during the 2014 season, Kelly and defensive coordinator Billy Davis stuck with the starting tandem of Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher.
When asked throughout the season why Boykin wasn't getting a look, Davis maintained that because Boykin was so good in the slot, it made the most sense to play him at his strongest position. Here's a quote from Davis last September explaining the X's and O's:
"I think our two outside corners are very good football players," Kelly said. "Again, it’s a matchup game. The bigger receivers are on the outside. The smaller receivers are on the inside. So you’ve got two longer guys in Fletch [Bradley Fletcher] and Cary [Williams] that really fit in terms of getting matched up. When most people, if they’re gonna be in '21' personnel, then they’re not small outside. They’re big outside. So when they’re big, we’re big. I think when you bring in the Wes Welkers and the great slot receivers in this league, you need to have someone that has the ability to cover them. And I think that’s what Brandon’s strength really is. That’s the way we’ve always looked at it."
Boykin, who stands at 5-10 and 185 pounds, doesn't have the ideal measurements that Kelly and defensive coordinator Billy Davis seem to value in a defensive back. But what he makes up for in size, Boykin has made up for with playmaking ability.
Terms like "athletic marvel" and "freakish athlete" get thrown around quite a bit, but few people his size have ups like this. Boykin was responsible for one of the most memorable plays of the Chip Kelly era, intercepting a critical Kyle Orton pass to give the Eagles a division-clinching win over the Cowboys in 2013.
Last year Pro Football Focus ranked Boykin 21st on its list of cornerbacks, significantly higher than Fletcher (92nd) and Williams (49th). So far during OTAs, Boykin has been in the slot with the first team while playing outside with the second team, per Zach Berman.
Boykin is the longest-tenured cornerback on the team. For perspective, the starting corners the year Boykin was drafted were Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. With newcomers like rookie Eric Rowe in the fold, and with Nolan Carroll apparently holding a very early edge in the competition, it will be worth watching how Boykin performs this summer--and where on the field the Eagles give him the chance to perform.