NEPD Editor: Oliver Thomas
It’s the number of games Josh Boyce played in during his rookie season. It’s the number of kickoffs he returned on special teams. And it’s the number of passes he caught in the New England Patriots offense.
It’s a number the former fourth-round pick is looking to multiply in 2014.
For Boyce, 2013 was a year that came to an end just as it got started. The Texas Christian standout landed on injured reserve in Week 17, after having tallied eight of his receptions over a three-game span in the final months of the campaign.
There were moments where he flashed, where he was able to make use of his 4.38-second 40-yard dash speed in the open field, where his 2,535 receiving yards and 22 touchdown grabs during his Horned Frogs career came to light.
Those moments were only that, however. No. 82 was an inactive for seven contests. He logged just 182 offensive snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. He was targeted 19 times. But, those moments, they were there.
And with the 5’11”, 205-pound 24-year-old entering a pivotal point in his NFL development, he must find his way back there again.
Yet in order to find out what may be in store for year two, here is a closer look at where the wide receiver made his 121 yards of offensive impact in year one.
Catch No. 1: 24-Yard Drag Route
Boyce recorded his first NFL reception in Week 4 versus the Atlanta Falcons. It came on play action midway through the fourth quarter.
Quarterback Tom Brady extended the handoff before turning his eyes upfield to see two Falcons in his face. Yet he also saw Boyce slipping behind linebacker coverage on a drag route underneath.
Brady tossed the ball out at the last second, leaving Boyce to arc his pattern back towards the line of scrimmage. Even so, the receiver was able to handle it off his shoelaces before veering towards the right sideline.
He got enough for the first down and then some, sidestepping cornerback Robert Alford for additional yardage down the right sideline.
The end result was a gain of 24.
Catch No.2: Six-Yard Curl Route
Playing in just two contests between Oct. 6 and Nov. 24, it had been eight weeks since Boyce recorded a catch. Yet against the Houston Texans in Week 13, the Copperas Cove native handled kick returns as well as his second reception of the year.
It occurred on a curl route late in the first half.
Veteran cornerback Johnathan Joseph was in off coverage as Brady found Boyce cutting back from the marker.
The route-runner reached up to snare the pass before Joseph barreled into him.
The concise first-down pass earned six yards.
Catch No.3: 15-Yard Post Route
One week later against the Cleveland Browns, injuries to fellow rookie receivers Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins thrust Boyce into a key role. In the process, he nearly matched his season-long snap count and more than doubled his catch total. And while the first time he was targeted ended in an interception, he made amends for it on his second target.
It took place in the midst of the second quarter, when Boyce abutted the left side of the line for a post route.
With cornerback Leon McFadden playing 10 yards off, Boyce broke inside at New England’s 40-yard line. He surpassed the 45 and sat down in an open window for Brady.
It was good for a pickup of 15 yards.
Catch No.4: 12-Yard Drag Route
Later on in the second quarter against Cleveland, Boyce registered his second catch of the game and fourth of the season. This time, it was on a drag pattern from the right side of the line.
And then-Browns safety T.J. Ward was in his vicinity.
Boyce curved around the Cleveland defensive front, garnering a shove from Ward as he crossed the hashes. That propelled him back towards the line of scrimmage, but it also propelled him through the catch point, free of charge.
After a slight bobble, Boyce delved into space. And an inside-out move versus cornerback Buster Skrine helped him delve even further.
The catch and run gathered 12 yards before Boyce ran out of bounds.
Catch No.5: 22-Yard Bubble Screen
Boyce managed to draw pass interference early in the third quarter of the Cleveland game, and he followed that up with another with 40 seconds left to play. But in between those two achievements, he also harnessed his third catch of the tilt.
It was on a bubble screen with five minutes left in the third, as New England sent trips left with Boyce as the inside-most receiver.
Brady took the snap and wasted little time getting the ball in the hands of Boyce, who had receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola paving road ahead of him.
Much of the paving, though, Boyce did himself. He made two Browns miss down the left side of the field, bouncing back from would-be tacklers before safety Tashaun Gipson wrapped him up.
The screen play was an opportunity for Boyce to create space for himself. He did, and 22 yards were the outcome.
Catch No. 6: Eight-Yard Stick Route
A 15-yard kick return in the fourth quarter of New England’s bout with Miami Dolphins ultimately concluded Boyce’s rookie season. Yet before that came to fruition, Boyce marked a season-best four receptions.
The first of which arrived in the opening quarter. Boyce split wide right only to motion into the slot for a stick route.
Cornerback Brent Grimes and linebacker Philip Wheeler found themselves in between Boyce and tight end Michael Hoomanawanui. And when the wideout shifted speeds, he became the beneficiary.
Boyce reeled Brady’s pass at the 16-yard line and angled his head up the sideline. He was shoved out by Grimes shortly thereafter.
The out pattern acquired eight yards.
Catch No. 7: Four-Yard Quick Screen
In the second quarter of the Miami game, Boyce tacked on his second catch of the game. It occurred when New England’s offense had the goal post at their backs. And perhaps that’s why it occurred.
A quick screen to Boyce was the call.
Brady got the snap and swiveled towards his priority receiver. Boyce, meanwhile, squared to his quarterback and set his feet in position to run after the reception.
Grimes was ready for it. The corner lowered his stance and met Boyce immediately after the catch was made.
Boyce was able to salvage four yards, towing his tackler with each step.
Catch No. 8: Zero-Yard Quick Screen
As the second half got underway against Miami, the Patriots went back to a familiar play selection – the quick screen. And they went back to a familiar player to run it – Boyce.
Boyce stood outside numbers before motioning into Edelman’s shadow.
Brady faked the halfback exchange and spiraled one to the receiver’s numbers. Yet by the time Boyce had possession, then-Miami safety Chris Clemons was heading down the pike.
New England’s reinforcements couldn’t stop him.
Boyce was greeted at the 18-yard line and forged his way back to the 20. The third screen catch of his rookie season went for no gain.
Catch No. 9: 30-Yard Out and Up
The final reception of Boyce’s rookie year also happened to be the longest. It took place with 12 minutes left in the third quarter of Week 15. And it took the Miami secondary deep down the field.
Boyce got in his stance as the offline flanker and readied for a route of a more vertical nature. For him, an out and up opposite Grimes was on the docket.
As the shotgun snap was field, Boyce sprinted to the 45-yard line. He chopped his strides at that juncture, just as Brady sold the pump fake. Those elements of deception caused Grimes to lean forward and overstretch his backpedal. And as he did, Boyce took his shot. He swung behind the back of the corner and surpassed midfield to make the catch in stride.
Boyce stayed on his feet and stuttered around the last line of defense. Yet just as the end zone appeared on the horizon, Grimes regained pace to tackle him at the legs.
The play traveled 30 yards. And it revealed the true potential of its recipient.
That potential was cut short in 2013, as Boyce’s rookie season was finished just two incompletions and one return later. Yet the way in which he proved effective could carry over in 2014.
Three of his catches came when the coaching staff made a concerted effort to free him on screens. Two of his catches came in a similar variety of drag routes across the underneath. And the other four came on a curl, a post, a stick and the aforementioned out and up.
Boyce’s rookie sample size was limited. But when the ball was in his hands, he wasn’t.