Chris Boyd came to Vanderbilt with the appearance of an elite wide receiver. As a redshirt freshman, he proved that he can play like one too.
Boyd put together a breakout year in 2011, catching eight touchdown passes and emerging as the team's #2 wideout during Vandy's surprising 6-7 season. Despite hitting the season as a relatively unknown commodity, he joined Jordan Matthews to help give the Commodores their strongest passing attack since the days of Jay Cutler. As a sophomore, he'll be counted to help lead a young core of athletes as Vanderbilt aims for their third bowl bid in the past five years.
The young speedster from Roswell, GA always looked the part of a SEC wideout. He came to Vanderbilt with the promise of a big-time possession receiver. Standing 6'5" and weighing close to 200 pounds, he was expected to be an immediate red zone threat for a team that lacked big targets between the pylons. It also helped that he was clocked at 4.5 seconds in the 40 yard dash as a high school senior. That speed was supposed to help give the 'Dores a versatile presence who could catch short routes over the middle or sprint down the field for deep balls.
However, a steady but forgettable 2010 summer got Boyd lost in a deep pile of receivers in Nashville. Veteran players like Udom Umoh and John Cole ended up retaining their starting spots while Jonathan Krause and Jordan Matthews emerged from the recruiting class of 2010 to make an immediate impact with the Commodores. Boyd, who would have needed injuries to pile up in order to fill a role outside of special teams play, wound up taking a redshirt season to preserve his four years of NCAA eligibility.
That extra year of seasoning helped Boyd acclimate to the college game, and it paid off immediately. He had four receptions in his first two college games, and three of those went for touchdowns. More importantly, they showed off Boyd's range as a wideout. Two of those scoring receptions came on plays of 30 yards or more.
That dynamic ability shined through his 2011 season. The freshman proved that he was a threat to get to the end zone from anywhere inside the the 50-yard line. He wasn't just a tall wideout who could pull down jump balls, but a heady player who caught passes in traffic and had the speed to pile on yards after the catch. More importantly, his ability to haul in passes anywhere on the field helped to keep safeties from sneaking up to stuff the run, allowing Zac Stacy to have the best year of any Vanderbilt tailback in school history.
Boyd led the team's receivers with eight touchdown receptions in 2011. He was the first Commodore freshman to do so since Earl Bennett posted nine back in 2005.
The highlight of Boyd's season may have come in the team's last game. Trailing 17-14 to Cincinnati in the fourth quarter, the freshman broke open a receiver screen and took Larry Smith's pass 68 yards down the sideline to give the Commodores a 21-17 lead. Though the Bearcats would add what became the winning touchdown on the ensuing kickoff, Boyd's dash was the brightest spot in a game where Vandy's offense struggled.
Chris Boyd's final line - 31 receptions, 473 yards - doesn't fully express what he brought to the field last season. His versatility not only led to his own touchdowns, but it also freed up players like Matthews and Stacy when opponents were forced to plan around him. His emergence played a huge role in Vandy's offense evolving from an attack that looked like two snails mating to one that could threaten with big plays every time they touched the ball.
He still has plenty of room to grow, however. Boyd will have to continue to add bulk if he wants to be a big and durable target over the middle and in the end zone. He'll also have to continue to develop as a blocker when paired up with heavy-hitting SEC corners. While he has the physical talents to be an impact player and potentially play on Sundays, he'll still need to put in plenty of work to get there.
Boyd has the hands, body, and athleticism to become an All-SEC wide receiver. He'll pair with Jordan Matthews to give the Commodores one of the most complete wideout combinations in school history. If he can continue his growth as a player, he'll give Jordan Rodgers, Austyn Carta-Samuels, Patton Robinette, Jonathan McCrary, and any other QB who might take a snap at Vandy over the next three years a big-time target.