On Tuesday morning, BaltimoreRavens.com’s Ryan Mink astutely noted how good teams have an assortment of players make big plays, essentially highlighting the importance of unsung heroes. Though I wrote a few weeks ago about Chuck Clark’s role on the team (and he continues to impress after a strip of Jimmy Garoppolo in the game this Sunday), the Ravens have a number of these largely overlooked – or at least underappreciated – players on their roster. In fact, in Mink’s tweet he fails to mention one of the most important players on the team: Nick Boyle.
Admittedly, when Baltimore signed Boyle to a 3-year, $18 million deal, I found the price tag to be far too large. Make no mistake, I understood the tight end’s importance as a blocker and certainly wanted him back with the Ravens, but I thought his skillset was somewhat replaceable. This seemed especially true given the team’s strength at the position with Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst. As it turns out, my take was way off.
This year, I would venture to say that Boyle has been one of the most critical Ravens players, yet he continues to fly under the radar both nationally and locally.
We’ve heard a ton about Baltimore’s ability to have eight big bodies on the line with three tight ends in a formation. There’s no doubt that it’s helped advance the league’s top running attack and therefore has been recognized. Additionally, we’ve heard about Greg Roman’s uncanny ability to scheme up a rushing game plan that will gash essentially any defense. Hell, the NFL Network’s show “Good Morning Football” even did a segment on two-way star Patrick Ricard. Without a doubt, all of this attention is well-deserved. However, it baffles me that Boyle hasn’t had a segment of his own done, because he’s been just as impactful to the offense as these other factors.
When Eric DeCosta re-signed Boyle this offseason, he did so because he knew that the tight end was a key piece of the offense Baltimore would build around Lamar Jackson. One of the top blocking tight ends in the NFL, Boyle is integral to sealing the edge, but is also proving to be a strong lead blocker who has the speed that allows him to help Jackson and Ingram down the field when they break into the second level.
However, in past years, Boyle running onto the field meant that the quarterback would hand the ball off. With Jackson’s ability to run RPO plays and decide to run himself, hand it off, or pass it based on what the defense gives him, Boyle joins Andrews and Hurst as a viable receiver. Because of the strides he’s taken in this regard, opposing teams essentially have no idea what’s coming on any given play. There’s no way to truly sell out against the run, because when they do, Lamar can pull the ball and hit any number of targets down the field. In fact, because Boyle has made himself a more-than-serviceable receiver, bringing him in on a likely rushing down may also serve as a massive decoy. We saw this against New England, on Boyle’s first touchdown catch, when the tight end slipped across the field and was left wide open.
Comparing Boyle’s 2018 production to his output thus far in 2019, he has made clear improvements. In four fewer games, Boyle already has two more receptions, 68 more yards, and just three fewer targets. By the end of the regular season, these statistics will all be far better than those of past seasons, and that speaks to his fit in Roman’s system.
Where his importance to the team is even more pronounced, however, is in the snap counts. In 2018, Boyle found himself on the field for 55% of Baltimore’s offensive snaps, which is a solid number for a tight end (it’s more than Mark Andrews’ 46% this year, which may surprise you). This season, Boyle plays a whopping 68% of the Ravens’ offensive snaps. If the percentage doesn’t mean anything to you, that makes Boyle the most-used skill position player on the Ravens this year, and it’s not really even close.
In Nick Boyle, Eric DeCosta has given Greg Roman, Lamar Jackson, Mark Ingram, and the offense an extra offensive lineman on over 1/3 of their plays, making him one of the most integral players on the roster.
Baltimore, it’s time we give him his due credit for that.