While the Cincinnati Bengals slogged through another disappointing season, Boyd was among their few bright spots right up until a knee injury with three games left ended his participation the rest of the way.
He reached his first 1,000-yard season midway through Cincinnati’s 14th game when a knee sprain ended competition for him in 2018. He finished with 1,028 yards, 76 receptions and seven touchdowns.
He also missed playing at Heinz Field in the season finale, a venue where he romped for Pitt from 2013-15 before the Bengals drafted him in the second round in 2017.
While this was Boyd’s best season, it also was the second straight marred by an MCL sprain. It occurred earlier in 2017, in October, and limited him to playing in 10 games that year. He also missed playing in Heinz Field then.
Before his late injury this season, Boyd, 25, duplicated the kind of play-making he performed at Clairton High School and Pitt.
“Tyler has ascended so much as a player, his confidence,’’ former Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. “As a rookie he did some great, positive things. A year ago with injury and different things that occurred he didn’t get the same opportunity. When he got a chance at the end of the season, the last few games he really did a nice job, and he picked up where he left off during the offseason program, training camp and obviously did a great job during this season.”
Boyd did not get a second chance to match the success he had against his hometown team earlier this season. He caught two touchdown passes in Cincinnati’s 28-21 loss to the Steelers on Oct. 14 at Paul Brown Stadium.
He will enter the fourth and final year of the $4.3 million contract he signed with the Bengals as a rookie, then become an unrestricted free agent in 2020 if Cincinnati does not sign him to a new deal before then.
They had visions of teaming him with A.J. Green the way the Steelers use their tandem of Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Injuries to both receivers, though, have thrown that plan off course. Green, 30, is scheduled to earn a $12 million salary next season as the team’s highest paid player. It also is his last under contract. Green was limited to nine games this season before the Bengals placed him on injured reserve with turf toe. He had 46 receptions for 694 yards.
Boyd hit his stride as a receiver this season before his injury. Previously their slot receiver, they used him more on the outside after they cut veteran Brandon LaFell, who previously played on the outside.“We made the moves we made during our camp to free space and make sure he wasn’t topped any more,” Lewis explained.
Boyd topped 100 yards three times in 2018, his best 132 yards against Carolina Sept. 23. He followed with 11 receptions for 100 yards against Atlanta as he and the Bengals got off to a fast start.
Cincinnati won four of its first five games to lead the AFC North Division after four weeks. But, despite Boyd’s two touchdowns against the Steelers, the Bengals lost that game by a touchdown and it began a downward spiral for them. Injuries and losses piled up as Cincinnati sank to the bottom of the division.
Boyd, though, is one of the many injured, including Green and quarterback Andy Dalton, the Bengals are counting on to return and put them back in contention in 2019.
“No question he had a great season this year,’’ Lewis said before the Bengals concluded their disappointing season against the Steelers. “I wish he had the last two weeks to continue to keep playing and finish the season and he were healthy throughout and he hadn’t missed [three] games. But that’s the way it goes.
“He’ll come back into next season fully prepared to really play with the confidence and so forth that we had in him.”