Only two cornerbacks in the NFC (Richard Sherman, Tramaine Brock) have more interceptions than Brandon Boykin. (USA Today Images)
Brandon Boykin has been typecast as a slot cornerback, and he’s not crazy about it.
He just thinks of himself as a cornerback, period.
Boykin, just 22 years old and in his second NFL season, has blossomed as one of the more exciting players on the Eagles’ young defense.
He picked up his team-leading third interception of the year Sunday in Green Bay, returning it 76 yards. Even at 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, he’s become a very good tackler, and his feel for playing the slot and knack for using his athleticism, speed and leaping ability is improving every week.
Nobody disagrees with any of that.
Here’s where this gets interesting. Boykin hates leaving the field. He hates watching from the bench. And some teams -- such as the Packers and Redskins -- don’t play that much three-wide. So Boykin sits.
Even when the Eagles are down a cornerback.
Boykin understands to an extent but said sometimes, he just needs to be on the field.
“I think it depends on the game,” Boykin said. “I do agree with it if a team is playing a lot of nickel or slot, but if it’s a team that runs the ball a lot or they’re in 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends, two wideouts), coaches know how capable I am of playing outside.
“If that’s the case in the game, where there’s not much nickel and I’m just sitting on the sideline, I don’t expect to just be in nickel. I guess it’s just the circumstances of the game.
“For instance, this week, [the Redskins] are just strictly base and not much nickel, so I don’t think the argument would be good just to say that. I expect to be on the field.”
Boykin would have loved to have been on the field the entire game Sunday, but with starter Bradley Fletcher out, defensive coordinator Billy Davis went with recent acquisition Roc Carmichael outside and kept Boykin only in the slot.
So Boykin played only 32 snaps on defense, his second-fewest this year. Carmichael played all 79 snaps, as did the other starting corner, Cary Williams.
Boykin has played as many as 80 snaps (Chargers) and is averaging 46 per game, or 58 percent of the Eagles’ defensive plays.
So one of their best playmakers is off the field 42 percent of the time.
“It's in our opinion as a staff and my opinion that I need Boykin to be a great nickel, and we feel as a staff that it lessens his ability to play nickel if he's playing corner and nickel every down both inside and outside,” Davis said.
“Some guys can do it in the NFL, and I just believe right now for Boykin to be the best nickel -- because I need a dominant nickel in there for all the third downs and two‑minutes -- and it was better for us putting Roc outside and handling that. Kind of compartmentalizing their roles to make them better at each role, and I felt that was the way it was going to be best for all of us, and I think it did work out.
“Boykin had a great game as a nickel, and I think Roc played a nice job outside at corner. A nickel is a starting position on this defense, and I want Boykin to be great at it.”
Because three-wide formations are so prevalent in the NFL these days, most teams consider the nickel corner a 12th starter.
When Joselio Hanson manned the slot for the Eagles, he generally swung outside when a starting corner was down.
But Kelly said the positions are so different, it doesn’t make sense to think of them as interchangeable spots.
“They’re two totally different positions, playing the nickel corner and playing the outside corner,” he said. “It’s like ‘Why doesn’t Connor Barwin move to inside linebacker when Mychal Kendricks goes down?’ Outside linebacker and inside linebacker are two totally different positions. Nickel corner and outside corner are two different positions.
“So with how you’re repping it and how you’re practicing it, at this point in time, it’s really difficult to cross-train guys at different positions. I think what you end up getting is you may lessen yourself, you’re playing a lesser guy.
“I think Roc’s ability to come in and prove that he can play corner for us has helped us so that we didn’t have to move Brandon. If we move Brandon, then we’ve got a brand-new nickel that hasn’t really played in there.”
Boykin understands all of that.
But still ...
“I always want to be on the field,” he said. “That’s what I’m used to, my whole life.
“But this is the NFL, best players in the world, and when you’re playing other positions, you’re in part kind of taking money away from other guys, and we’ve got plenty of people who are capable of doing the job.
“It’s not my decision. But I know how capable I am of playing outside, and they do too.”
Boykin is also returning kicks these days and averaging 18 special teams snaps per game. So he’s still on the field an average of 64 plays a game.
He just wants to be out there for all of them.
“I understand what he’s saying,” Boykin said of Davis. “A lot of times, their best receiver is in the slot and he doesn’t want me to be gassed or tired. That’s exactly right, what [Davis] said.
“But if there were ever a situation where it was just running game, running game, running game, and I’m not playing much in the slot, I would imagine they would change that, if that were the case.”