As he fought for playing time with the Pittsburgh Steelers during the 2015 season, cornerback Brandon Boykin couldn’t help but see what the Carolina Panthers were doing on defense.
He saw Carolina’s league-high 24 interceptions with four going back for touchdowns. He saw the 39 takeaways, which were by far the most in the league.
Now he gets to be part of it for the 2016 season.
Boykin signed a one-year deal with the Panthers on Monday after a brief visit with Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman, coach Ron Rivera and defensive backs coach Steve Wilks. He projects to be the starting nickel cornerback in 2016.
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“Those are the type of things that create the atmosphere of winning,” Boykin said a teleconference with local reporters Monday afternoon. “Everybody’s young and guys are still coming into their own and I feel that’s exactly what I am – a young guy that’s had success but needs that opportunity to be all that I know I can be.
“I know I have an extremely high ceiling that I know hasn’t been reached yet, and this is the best opportunity that I could ask for to maximize it.”
After the signing of defensive tackle Paul Soliai earlier this month nickel cornerback became Carolina’s priority in free agency. The Panthers have planned to move Bené Benwikere to outside corner opposite Josh Norman for 2016, and they did not re-sign veteran Cortland Finnegan after bringing him out of semiretirement last year.
Boykin, a fourth-round pick by the Eagles in 2012 out of Georgia, had seven interceptions in his first three seasons in Philadelphia, including six in his second season. But he was relegated to mostly special teams and backup duties during his 2015 season with the Steelers, who traded for Boykin before last season.
Boykin, 5-foot-9 and 183 pounds, got buried on the depth chart last year when the Steelers signed former Charlotte Latin and Duke standout Ross Cockrell to play outside cornerback one month after trading for Boykin. Boykin didn’t play much on the defensive side until Week 13, and he allowed a passer rating for just 65.0 in the final five weeks of the regular season according to Pro Football Focus.
Boykin said the opportunity pitched to him by Carolina was more sincere than what he’s dealt with in the past. He said he had at least four other offers from teams and intimated they were for more money. Terms of Boykin’s deal were not immediately available.
“I’d describe (last year) as a really weird year, honestly,” Boykin said. “A lot of things happened to me that were out of my control and I still don’t understand. But the past is the past. I’ve grown from it. I’m thankful for my time there. They gave me the opportunity that I needed to ultimately end here and get here.
“I played a lot at the end of the season and I was able to put some really, really good things on tape and get some really good stats in those last six games. I’m a firm believer in everything happens for a reason and I really don’t look in the past.”
While the plan is for Boykin to play in the slot, he knows he needs to be versatile. He said he’d be willing to play outside and even mentioned his special teams abilities.
Boykin could compete with running back Fozzy Whittaker for kickoff return duties in 2016.
“Brandon brings a lot of versatility,” Gettleman said in a statement. “He’s athletic, smart, instinctive, tough, and has quality ball skills. Brandon is a very good piece for our defense and brings solid special teams value as well. We’re excited to add Brandon to our roster.”
Boykin is the third Georgia Bulldog on Carolina’s roster along with linebacker Thomas Davis and defensive end Charles Johnson, who publicly lobbied for Boykin.
Boykin and Davis saw each other last month at the Christian-based Pro Athletes Outreach conference, and Boykin said he told Davis of his interest in Carolina but didn’t know if it’d be reciprocated.
Once it was, Boykin called the decision a “no-brainer.”
“I think it’s a team that I always wanted to be interested in me, and the stars really aligned for it,” Boykin said.