OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- As Dez Bryant spent last week in Baltimore passing the coronavirus testing protocol and trying out for the Ravens, wide receiver Miles Boykin went to work at training camp, leaping high in the air and catching every pass within his reach.
Boykin is the player who would've been the most affected if the Ravens had signed Bryant. He's also among those who aren't really interested in the talk surrounding Bryant, who left Baltimore on Thursday without a deal.
“Honestly, it has nothing to do with me," Boykin said. "That’s [the front office's] job. My job is to go out there and play to the best of my ability every day, and that’s what I try to do. Whatever happens, happens. But I’ve got to focus on myself and this team first.”
Boykin, a third-round pick from a year ago, has used that focus to become one of the Ravens' most improved offensive players. He's been the perfect complement to the blazing speed of Marquise "Hollywood" Brown, giving Lamar Jackson a big 6-foot-4 target with a huge catch radius.
Bryant, 31, has a more prominent name and a more impressive resume, catching 531 passes including 73 touchdowns. Boykin, 23, made just 13 catches last season but he carries a more intriguing upside.
"I would take Boykin in a minute," said Charley Casserly, the former general manager for Washington and the Houston Texans. "I'm not sure what Dez Bryant does for you. He helps you in the red zone, but he's not a disciplined route-runner. That's something you need, especially when you have a young quarterback. So, I'd stick with Boykin. I'd keep riding Boykin as he gets better, better and better."
Boykin, the 13th wide receiver selected in the 2019 draft, had a similar start to training camp last year and built up expectations around this time last year, too. He was Baltimore's most consistent receiver in training camp before disappearing in the regular season.
But Boykin wasn't the only rookie receiver who struggled last season. League-wide, of the wideouts drafted in the third round or later, just seven totaled more than Boykin's 198 receiving yards.
Coaches see a difference in Boykin this year. He's more polished and fluid. He's not thinking, just reacting.
"Basically, I’m starting to see right now -- we as a franchise are starting to see on offense -- that he’s starting show his 6-4, 225, because he’s comfortable in our system," wide receivers coach David Culley said. "He knows what we’re doing right now. He’s playing much faster and he’s playing stronger."
With that size and strength, Boykin should excel at those 50-50, jump balls. Last season, he was the only Baltimore wide receiver who had double-digit receptions and didn't record a tight-window catch (when separation between the receiver and defender is less than one yard at the arrival of the pass).
Boykin needed just two days into this year's training camp to make one such reception. As Jackson's pass sailed over the 6-foot Marlon Humphrey along the sideline, Boykin soared to pull down the ball.
"I just feel like this is my time," Boykin said. "This is time for me to be able to take over, and when the ball is in the air, I’ve just got to go get it. That’s what this team needs, and that’s what I’m here for."
That catch was also the type of play Jackson wants to improve upon. It was deep downfield and outside the numbers.
With defenses expected to load the box to stop Baltimore running the ball, Boykin should get more one-on-one opportunities to stretch the field. His 15.2 yards per-catch average led the Ravens and was nearly two more yards per reception than any other teammate.
"[We are] really going to load his plate a lot more this year and really ask a lot of him this year," Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. "We really feel like he’s going to take a giant step."