Fantasy Football: Don’t Confuse Tyler Boyd’s Safety With a Lack of Upside
It is no secret that the Cincinnati Bengals struggled mightily in 2019. Their wide receiving corps, led by Tyler Boyd, suffered from some of the league’s worst quarterback play and efficiency.
In the absence of A.J. Green, Boyd assumed the largest target share in his career as a part of one of the highest passing volume offenses. That volume was good to result in a WR18 finish in PPR scoring, according to FantasyData.
Let’s dive into Boyd’s 2019 production and discuss what that means for his 2020 fantasy outlook.
Going into the 2020 season, Boyd is being taken as the WR33, according to BestBall10s' 12-team June average draft position (ADP).
He's coming off boards just after the 70th pick, with an average of 70.86 for the month.
Despite Cincinnati being a perfect example of dysfunction over the last couple of years, Boyd continued to be a major bright spot for the offense.
With Green sidelined the entirety of the season, 2019 marked the fourth-year wideout's first season as the top dog for Cincy, and his production was a mixed bag. While he did not play poorly by any means, the efficiency and upside we witnessed in 2018 took a step back.
There are many reasons to be excited by Boyd’s draft position. One of those reasons is the sheer bulk of opportunity potentially available to him. In 2019, Cincinnati passed at the fifth-highest rate in the league, with a pass-to-run ratio of 1.72. As a result, Boyd ranked top-eight in both targets (147) and receptions (90). He also ranked 13th in the league in target share (24.9%) and 18th at his position in snap rate (92%).
All of these numbers were career-highs and drastic increases from his 2018 breakout season.
However, the 2019 season wasn't all sunshine and roses for Boyd. While on the surface it appeared that Boyd had a solid season, there are reasons to believe he was underwhelming and left plenty of room to improve.
One of the most important factors in Boyd’s success has been where he lines up. In 2019, his slot percentage dropped to 55.3% -- down from 67.3% in 2018. He was drastically less efficient lining up on the outside, which led to a drop in his true catch rate (minus 7.8%) and target separation (1.41 in 2018 to 1.33 in 2019), according to PlayerProfiler. These could be a result of him lining up across defensive backs that typically would have lined up across from Green in the past.
Even though Boyd saw 39 more targets and caught 14 more passes in 2019, he only finished with 17 more receiving yards than he did in 2018 -- a season in which he played two fewer games.
Boyd's depth per target (minus 2.4 yards) and depth per reception (minus 1.9 yards) took a hit. Even his yards after the catch decreased (minus 1.1 yards). All of that helps explain the underwhelming total output.
There is no doubt that quarterback efficiency, or lack thereof, also played a part in the drastic regression Boyd experienced. Both catchable percentage (minus 3.7%) and target accuracy (minus 2.1) dropped significantly in 2019. Additionally, Cincinnati ranked fifth-worst in the league in Adjusted Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per play.
While Boyd saw a massive volume increase, the drop-in quality and efficiency of those targets essentially canceled out the benefits.
Let’s see how things are shaping up for the 25-year-old going into next season.
Cincinnati in 2020
Things are looking up for Cincinnati's receiving corps after the Bengals drafted LSU quarterback Joe Burrow first overall, which should lead to improved quarterback play.
Yes, the return of Green and the addition of Tee Higgins will take targets away from Boyd, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, for a couple of reasons.
Most importantly, it is expected that Boyd will return to the slot where he has proven to be at his best. Along with this, it is unlikely that the offense’s efficiency can get much worse than it was in 2019. That means that Boyd can counter the loss in target share with improved per target output. And we know this scenario is realistic because we already saw him do it in 2018.
Additionally, last season, players like Alex Erickson, Auden Tate, and Tyler Eifert combined for 221 targets. Though only the latter is no longer with the team, neither Erickson nor Tate is expected to garner nearly as many targets in 2020.
While I do not expect Boyd to reach anywhere near 147 targets, there should be more than enough targets available for Green and Higgins, given the fact that they will be stealing snaps from those aforementioned receivers.
numberFire projects that Boyd will hit 114.8 targets, which is certainly in the ballpark of what we can realistically expect. The algorithm has him posting 861.6 yards and 4.4 scores on those targets.
That leaves sneaky upside for Boyd to break into anywhere from high-end to low-end WR2 range if he's able to improve on his per target and per reception efficiency from last season. If Cincinnati is forced to throw the ball near the clip they did in 2019, this further increases the upside associated with Boyd.
Overall, Boyd comes with a high, safe floor, but do not take this to mean that he lacks upside. At the very least, he's an elite WR3 option with plenty of room to outperform his draft position.