Why Tyler Boyd Is Still Undervalued

A detailed look at Tyler Boyd's fantasy prospects for 2019.

Summary

Boyd erupted into fantasy relevance in a big way in 2018. The former second-round afterthought obliterated his career-highs, turning 108 targets into 76 receptions, 1,028 yards, and 7 touchdowns over just 14 games. Still, throughout early 2019 fantasy drafts, Boyd is checking in as a dice-roll play in Round 6 and 7. From an ADP standpoint, he’s blending in with the wild-cards like Mike Williams, Corey Davis, and Will Fuller V. But there are several reasons Boyd is likely being undervalued right now – perhaps by quite a bit – and that his 2018 success has a great chance of carrying over. He took a massive step forward in terms of in-depth receiving metrics, which points away from One Year Wonder status. And if last year is any indicator, Boyd looks poised to benefit from A.J. Green’s return to the field – as well as quarterback Andy Dalton’s. Given his real 80-catch potential, he’s looking like a much safer play than the sexier names above, and one with comparable upside as well.

Boyd’s 2018 Surge Was No Fantasy

Drafted in 2016, Boyd indeed didn’t break out from a fantasy perspective until 2018. But it certainly didn’t seem like a fluky breakout; Boyd took big steps forward in a real-life sense. Last April, 4for4’s Josh Hermsmeyer penned a quick but comprehensive breakdown of a few receiving metrics that predict receiver production much better than our old-fashioned count stats:

  • Air yards/average depth of target (aDOT) – How far down the field is the receiver drawing looks?
  • Receiver air conversion ratio (RACR) – On how much of that downfield attention is the receiver successful?

Here’s how Boyd fared in those measures, from his rookie 2016 to last season’s leap:

Season
AirYds/Game
aDOT
RACR
2016
42.1
8.32
0.895
2018
77.6
10.06
0.946

* This excludes Boyd’s nightmarish 2017, which saw him miss six games and slide down the Cincinnati pecking order for several reasons (injuries and a team-imposed suspension). Those factors aren’t to be discounted, but it makes sense to blot them out to some degree, given his massive 2018 improvement.

In 2018, Boyd caught a higher percentage of balls thrown his way while taking on more of a downfield role in the Bengals’ pass game. He finished ninth leaguewide among all wideouts with 75 targets or more, ahead of the likes of DeAndre Hopkins, Adam Thielen, and the Rams’ dominant receiving trio. That’s a strong indicator that Boyd’s 2018 leaps were truly impactful – to both the Bengals and fantasy players – and that his star is likely on the rise.

Green’s Return is a Plus, Not a Minus

Quick reasoning tells us to expect less from Boyd with Green returning to the lineup. There are only so many targets to go around, after all, particularly in a slow-paced offense like the Bengals’. And for all of Boyd’s improvement, he’s certainly not the dominant force Green is. But keen-eyed observers will note that most of Boyd’s 2018 damage came before Green went on IR in Week 9:

Weeks
TgtShare
Yds/Game
Pts/Snap
Pts/Game
1 to 8
0.223
77.5
0.32
17.66
10 to 14
0.218
74.0
0.22
13.20

With Green dominating defensive attention and pulling secondaries down the field, Boyd was one of the league’s most effective all-around receivers. (He ended Week 8 as the PPR WR13, after all.) Boyd primarily makes his living as an underneath target, working horizontally from the slot – though we saw above what a leap he made as a downfield threat as well. All in all, he drew a higher target share with Green on the field than off, and he made more of his opportunities with more room to operate.

Dalton’s Return Matters Even More

No one will ever confuse Dalton with Brett Favre or Patrick Mahomes II – he’s not, by any measure, a very good downfield passer. But he’s far more effective than Jeff Driskel was over his five 2018 starts. Driskel completed a comparable rate of his throws as Dalton did, but produced considerably less yardage and scoring opportunity on those attempts.

Player
Comp%
Yds/Comp
NetYds/Att
TD%
A. Dalton
0.619
11.4
6.24
0.058
J. Driskel
0.597
9.6
4.59
0.034

It was encouraging to see Boyd continue to produce down the stretch, making the best of Driskel’s time under center. But he’s even more enticing with Green across the field and Dalton delivering the ball. There are reasons to doubt Dalton as an NFL passer, but the advantage he brings over Driskel, a replacement-level guy on his best day, can’t be overstated. With Dalton under center, the Bengals threw more and more efficiently in 2018. And to boot, as noted above, they sent the ball Boyd’s way more often.

Again, Dalton is no world-beater. He has distinct limitations to his game, and he won't be helming these Bengals for much longer. But barring injury, he looks locked-in for 2019 - rookie Ryan Finley has looked atrocious thus far - and that's a good thing for Boyd and the Bengals. If nothing else, it's certainly several steps better than the alternative, as glimpsed late last season.

This Offense Has Nowhere to Go But Up, Up, Up

New head coach Zac Taylor fits the mold of the sought-after 2019 coaching prospect. He hits all of the superficial checkboxes. He’s young (just 35), he quarterbacked an explosive college offense just 12 years ago, and he’s fresh off a brief offensive tenure under Rams wunderkind Sean McVay. Those Rams finished the 2018 season fourth in play volume, second in yards per play, third in net yards per pass attempt, and third in Pro Football Reference’s Scorability metric (percentage of drives resulting in an offensive score). Those credentials are tantalizing – at least when looked at through a McVay lens – but remain entirely up for debate. Not every thirtysomething is McVay, of course, and we’ll see plenty of similar coaching prospects fail as the gold rush continues.

Still, it seems highly likely Taylor’s offense will improve statistically from previous Bengals iterations. After all, when an offense spends three straight years in the doldrums, where else is there to go but up?

Statistic
2016
2017
2018
OffPlays
10th
32nd
30th
Yds/play
19th
29th
25th
NetYds/Att
16th
22nd
26th
Scor%
17th
27th
20th

Few units have been as slow-paced and inefficient as these Bengals over the past few years. Essentially, Taylor’s Bengals seem destined for some degree of forward momentum. Just what that means in terms of effectiveness and winning football, of course, remains a mystery. But it’s comforting to note that Taylor will call his own offensive plays and that he’s sure to bring more dynamism and versatility to Cincinnati than has been seen in years. Even just a boost in play volume would create more opportunity for the Bengals’ intriguing skill positions – and almost certainly more scoring chances.

If Boyd, Green, and Joe Mixon can do what they did in 2018 with low efficiency, who’s to set a tight ceiling with Taylor at the helm?

2019 Projections

Projector
Games
Recs
RecYds
RecTDs
Rush
RuYds
RuTDs
David Dodds
16
65
832
6
3
13
0
Maurile Tremblay
16
50
676
4
2
12
0
Bob Henry
14
67
840
6
4
15
0
Jason Wood
16
63
800
5
0
0
0

Other Viewpoints

Apex’s Mike Braude is certainly excited over Boyd, and doesn’t see much of a 2019 drop-off coming:

At just 24 years old, it’s likely that Boyd is still getting better. However even after finishing as the WR17 last season, Boyd is being discounted so heavily that he’s available as WR28. There may not be a better value in the fantasy football market.

Over at the Last Word on Sports, Patrick Driscoll sees big PPR value in targeting Boyd a bit earlier than his ADP:

You have got to love the idea of drafting a top-five graded slot receiver in the fifth or sixth round for a PPR league… Boyd is also a legitimate red zone threat and has the potential to catch a decent amount of touchdowns. In my opinion, a reasonable expectation for Boyd in 2019 would be in the neighborhood of 70 catches, 900 yards, and 6-8 touchdowns.

Still, he’s not without his detractors. Our own Footballguys projectors (above) are generally bearish on Boyd’s outlook, and Matt Waldman wasn’t swayed by Boyd’s 2018 production next to Green:

Boyd is a smart and tough player who earned more opportunities because injuries to the receiving corps made him the de facto primary option. Not this year.


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