Nine Glimpses: Josh Boyce’s Rookie Season in Patriots Offense

Josh Boyce’s rookie season with the Patriots was one of glimpses. And in the offensive huddle, there were nine. (USA Today Sports Images)

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.

(NFL Game Rewind)

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.

(NFL Game Rewind)

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.

(NFL Game Rewind)

Veteran cornerback Johnathan Joseph was in off coverage as Brady found Boyce cutting back from the marker.

(NFL Game Rewind)

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.

(NFL Game Rewind)

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.

(NFL Game Rewind)

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.

(NFL Game Rewind)

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.

(NFL Game Rewind)

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.

(NFL Game Rewind)

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.

(NFL Game Rewind)

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.

(NFL Game Rewind)

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.

(NFL Game Rewind)

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.

(NFL Game Rewind)

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.

(NFL Game Rewind)

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.

(NFL Game Rewind)

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.

(NFL Game Rewind)

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.

(NFL Game Rewind)

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.

(NFL Game Rewind)

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.

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19 Responses to “Nine Glimpses: Josh Boyce’s Rookie Season in Patriots Offense”

  1. J H TARBORO says:

    DT Armond Armstead announces retirement!

  2. Dylan.C says:

    All you guys who think we should trade for Andre Johnson are NUTS.

    There are so many good young receivers on this team! Yes, they all showed mental errors and had health issues last year, but they all offer very unique skills sets and flashed some serious potential!

    If they put in the time in in the class room, weight room, and practice field the sky is the limit for thus group. For rookies they flashed some serious potential and most receivers don’t do much in their rookie seasons. I feel like them being thrown into the fire last year will actually be good for their long term development. The reps on the field and in practice are invaluable. Everyone knows that there is typically a big sophomore year leap for WRs and I am very anxious to see how these guys look!

    Lets just hope they can all get and stay healthy.

    Dobson – Pro-typical outside threat, good size and speed, big catch radius. Struggled early but put up some serious games midway through the season before getting injured.
    Its to bad he missed the entire off-season but as long as he is ready for training camp he should be ok. Future X receiver

    Thompkins – Slightly smaller than Dobson but still good enough size to fight for contested balls. Can work both inside and outside the numbers and has a quick release off of press coverage. Looks and sounds like he has been working really hard in weight room this off season and apparently he looked great in OTAs. Plus, he is cusins with Antonio Brown from the Steelers who was an absolute beast last season, hopefully they have been working out together haha. I can’t believe that people suggested he should be cut earlier this off season. Future Z receiver.

    Boyce – Small and shifty, great agility and speed. Can get behind the defense with h is strait line speed but is probably best suited working primarily out of the slot. Can return Kicks/Punts. Future Slot receiver.

    If things panned out this way a few years down the road that would be quite the haul from one draft. Definitely a very crowded receiving group, I still think it was dumb of them to give Lafell so much guaranteed money when he could be outplayed byt the younger receivers at camp, but now they basically have to keep him.

    I guess having to much talent at one position is a problem most teams would like to have.

    • Dylan.C says:

      Ha Jeez it appears I should have give this a read through before I posted whoops

      • steve earle says:

        No problem Dylan, your message came across clearly, good thinking. Besides no teachers to give grades on this site, lol.

  3. J H TARBORO says:

    It’s that time! Bring Andre Johnson to N.E. WR should trade Mallett and Brandon Lafell since he is unproven in our system and bank on who we have.

    • steve earle says:

      To be honest I haven’t seen any numbers on what Johnson is now getting and how that would impact our cap. The trade you suggest sounds okay but from what I read Houston has no intrest in trading Johnson so it might take a great deal more including high draftpicks for them to even think about it. What are your feelings regarding these questions?

    • steve earle says:

      Following up, I read today that any team taking on Johnson would be taking on a 16 million cap hit also that Houston “will not trade him”. Can’t say I blame them I think he still has 3-4 good years left. Seems like wishful thinking that he will ever be a Patriot, too bad he would do wonders for Brady.

    • Bobthebuilder says:

      Mallett has no value in a trade with the Texans, and Lafell has minimal value. The Texans would never trade Johnson for those 2.

    • MaineMan says:

      So, LaFell “is unproven” in the Pats system, but Andre Johnson IS, somehow?

      • steve earle says:

        Your very likely right though given their QB situation right now if Mallette was part of an offer including a couple first round choices, who knows? I think though I’ll take them at their word that they are not willing to trade Johnson because it could set an example going forward. Sometimes you just gotta think “what if”.

      • steve earle says:

        Your right MM but Johnson is far and away a better WR then LaFell, for what that’s worth but none of this really matters because no way this happens except in the immagenary world.

        • MaineMan says:

          No question that Johnson has more athletic and technical skill overall than LaFell, but they’ve kinda played different (though overlapping) roles.

          Johnson runs all kinds of routes. He’s very strong/physical go over the middle, but he truly excels over most others outside the numbers and deep.

          Over the last couple seasons, LaFell has run 60% of his routes lining up in spot typical for a “move-TE” (like Amaro, Ebron, Hernandez, etc.), so he’s developed a specialty that’s outside of what Johnson typically does, a specialty which may have some elevated value for the Pats offense, given their current roster circumstances.

          The point is, though, that LaFell and Johnson – regardless of their skill sets – have equal chances of “getting”/failing to “get” the way the Pats scheme packages routes/pre-snap reads/post-stem options and the abbreviated terminology they use to identify those packages (and variations/adjustments). Some of the advantages to this are the reduced need to huddle and the enhancement to the hurry-up since adjustments at the line of scrimmage (to everybody’s route/options) may often be expressed in one word.

          This play-calling system isn’t unique to the Pats (anymore) in the pros or in college (Kelly used something very similar at Oregon), but the vast majority of teams still employ a more directly descriptive system with fewer read/options to memorize. For a 33-year-old guy who’s spent 11 seasons in a different system where he hasn’t had to think about what to do on a given play for years, it can be (and has been for many Pats veteran WR acquisitions over the years) a real challenge having to learn, from scratch, a different way of understanding what he’s supposed to do (this is the source of the whole “getting on the same page as Brady” thing).

          LaFell might not even make it. He admitted during mini-camp that he’s struggled with it through OTAs. He’s much younger than Johnson and his role has changed a couple times over his four-year career, so he has less to “unlearn” (hypothetically) than Johnson. If the Pats acquire Johnson now, he won’t even have had the OTA “introduction” to the system that LaFell has had.

          So, as great a WR as Johnson has been for over a decade, the risk/reward calculation of attempting to add him to a now healthy and more experienced pass-catching crew just doesn’t seem worth the expense to me.

          BTW – the situation with Moss was entirely different in two critical aspects. First, Moss was relatively cheap. He was acquired with just a 4th-round pick (that was more or less a “freebie” anyway) and his contract was slightly less than what LaFell just got. Second, in 2007, the Pats turned over nearly the entire WR corps so it was reasonable for McD to “simplify” (his word) the play-calling system since it involved nearly everybody (Moss, Welker, Stallworth). Gaffney was the only significant holdover from 2006, and even he appeared to benefit from that temporary simplification. In 2014, though, there’s essentially only the one new guy – LaFell (who may have a limited role by design, anyway) – and everybody else has had at least a year in the system. So, yeah, Johnson’s role could be “simplified” to help him ease his way into the system, but then that might very well limit his usage, making him sort of a situational player (which he may not ever get beyond) and I’m not sure it’s wise to spend what’s likely required for that.

        • steve earle says:

          Everything you said is right MM, I have no argument with it. Bob just brought up the idea as something to consider and have some fun talking about it. I don’t think it is more then wishful thinking on anyones part. I just have to wonder the “what if’s” that could happen if it was to happen. Brady to Johnson, Brady to Gronk, Brady to Vereen, Brady to Edelman. Just immagine ! Just for fun !

    • DMC413 says:

      Bringing in Andre Johnson would be a major set back for N.E. Patriots for all the reasons MaineMan mentioned, not to mention such a move would stunt the growth of our sophmore WR’s and take away needed chemistry between Tom Terrific, LaFell and #80.

      TB and the scheme that McDaniels run compliment each other perfectly so you really don’t need a stud like AJ (all though I do dream of our days when we had Moss)…. Not saying this is what we are but a mediocre WR core and TB is all you need, its the perfect balance hindering defenses from zeroing in on any one player…. TB is at his best when he takes what the defense gives him, this is what we were during our SB days!

  4. Bom Trady says:


    • MaineMan says:

      Actually? Probably not.

      Consider the following:
      – Hernandez suddenly gone and too late to pick up a viable replacement
      – Gronk out for half the season
      – Vereen out for half the season
      – Amendola dinged up for the entire season
      – Ridley fumbling away for 3 opponent TDs and a FG
      – the passing attack largely dependent on two (and a half) rookies, Edelman and Hooman
      (don’t EVEN get me started on what they were missing on defense)

      Talk about playing with one had tied behind your back! And yet the Pats went 12-4, were essentially tied for 2nd in the league in scoring, and were one step away from the SB.

      Meanwhile, Johnson is 33 years old and hugely expensive (remember how many people didn’t want to pay Welker even $7M/year because he was 32 and at an age when WRs start to decline?). Johnson has spent all of his 11 seasons in a completely different play-calling scheme with completely different terminology that many other older, accomplished veteran WRs have failed to learn (Chad Ochocinco says “Hi” from the CFL, BTW).

      So, in 2014, the Pats get Gronk, Vereen and Amendola back healthy, plus three promising, young WRs, now with a season’s experience, and add in LaFell and the possibility that at least one of Watson, Williams or Jones accomplishes a bit more as a receiving TE than Hooman did in 2013.

      So, why would the Pats want to give up a couple decent players and/or a draft pick, AND maybe have to cut a couple other decent players to stay under the cap, just to add an old guy who might only be good for a couple seasons (if at all). Because he’s so, SOOO good he’s *guaranteed* to put them over the top and get them another ring? Really?! When has it ever actually worked that way?

  5. steve earle says:

    The guy has talent and speed, now if he can stay healthy and on the field we might have something special.

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