Having dispensed with the array of offensive line candidates in whom the Cowboys have expresses interest, we'll now turn our attention to the skill position guys that were invited to the Ranch earlier this month. There weren't a lot of them. In fact, the only wide receiver at whom we'll take a closer look is Oklahoma standout Ryan Broyles. The story on Broyles is dominated by a singular event: his torn left ACL, suffered in a November contest against Texas A&M.
Before the injury, Broyles had become the NCAA career receptions leader, with 349 grabs. After the injury, he was a guy with a big question mark where his number used to be. He was unable to participate in any of the draft's lead-up events: no All-Star Bowls or Combines for Mr. Broyles, no siree. Instead, he focused on his rehab, hoping to be able to show enough recovery of his skills to remind scouts of what they liked about him pre-injury.
And on Thursday, he did just that. With representatives form twelve different teams in attendance, Broyles worked out for a little more than half an hour, recording a 32.5 inch vertical, and clocking solid forty times, with a best of 4.57 (his workout can be found here). These numbers suggest that he's not 100 percent - and he clearly favored his knee when making cuts while running routes - but the former Sooner did enough to convince scouts that he'll be ready to roll when NFL training camps open later this summer.
And that is important because before the injury, Broyles was the most prolific receiver in collegiate history. He owns 10 school records, nine of which were set in 2010: receptions in a game (15 vs. Iowa State); season receptions; career receptions; receiving yards in a game (208 vs. Colorado); season receiving yards; career receiving yards; season TD receptions (with 17); career touchdown receptions; season 100-yard games; career 100-yard games. As might be expected for such a productive player, the Internet is packed with highlight reels of Broyles' work. I like this one (the punt return versus OSU is spectacular); here's one from his awesome 2010 season. Here he is in action against Texas in 2011.
As scouts size up Broyles prior to the draft, they'll have a lot of serious head-scratching to do: they must weigh his spectacular production, work ethic and dedication against his injury recovery timetable and his physical limitations - he's only 5'10" and 188 pounds and doesn't possess the elite speed that tends to jettison guys into the first-round stratosphere.
So, just where will scouts slot Broyles? Make the leap to see what they have to say...National Football Post (Wes Bunting): 20th-rated WR; 175th overall
Possesses average height for the position with a thinner, yet muscular frame. Isn't real thick through the waist, but has a strong set of legs and thighs. Is a natural receiver who has a good feel for the pass game, knows how to sit down vs. zone coverage, snap his head around and pluck the football. Exhibits "plus" body control and awareness along the sideline catching the football off his frame and getting his feet in bounds. Doesn't have the kind of physicality to routinely beat press coverage off the line and will struggle to fend off defenders who get into his frame both off the line and down the field. Doesn't absorb/fight through contact well and can be slowed through contact.
Displays good speed, not elite, but plays fast on vertically breaking routes. Is subtle/explosive when using a shimmy to get behind defenders and accelerates quickly down the field. However, needs to set up defenders in order to get behind them, doesn't have the kind of elite second gear to simply outpace NFL corners. Looks natural working the double move, sells it well, maintains balance and quickly gets back up to speed. Possesses good body control on inward breaking routes as well, gets a bit choppy at times getting out of his breaks, but is concise as a route runner, works his angles back toward the quarterback and use his body in order to shield. Showcases good short area quickness out of his breaks, gets a bit sloppy with his angles on outward breaking routes, but is fluid in the hips and generates a burst away from defenders in tight areas. Can create after the catch. Isn't as dynamic in the open field as many believe. But takes what the defense gives him, has the wiggle to make a man miss and accelerates quickly.
Impression: Isn't a legit number one type wide out and isn't a guy who I would even play on the outside in the NFL. However, has the polish and quickness needed to separate underneath and should be a solid contributor early inside for an NFL offense.
Rob Rang (CBS Sports):14th-rated WR; 111th overall
Positives: Shows quickness off the snap to shake off corners and create room. Separates with hesitation moves and nice acceleration. Hands and toughness are among his greatest strengths. Extends arms to snatch throws outside his frame. Good sideline awareness. Works the middle of the field effectively. An elusive runner with shifty hips and toughness. Has long arms to stiff-arm defensive backs in the open field. Willing to lower his pads to run through tackles for extra yardage. Goes over the middle, can spin out of tackles and take the big hit. Return skills come from that quick burst and his ability to wiggle through creases in full speed.
Negatives: Torn left ACL raises durability questions for a player whose speed has long been a concern. Will struggle to get off the jam at the next level because of his size. Dances more often than you'd like as a returner. Quick, not fast, and is often caught from behind. Gives effort, but he's not a blocking threat.
Pro Football Weekly (Nolan Nawrocki): 12th-rated WR; 94th overall
Positives: Quick feet and good balance. Displays natural ball skills—catches easily with soft hands . Keen tracking and concentration. Flexible hips and terrific body control to adjust to throws. Nice field and boundary awareness—uncovers short-to-intermediate and can "dot the i." Goes in traffic areas, attacks the ball in the air and sacrifices his body to make plays. Bench-pressed 225 pounds 21 times at the Combine (second-best among receivers). Productive after the catch—shows instincts, vision, and agility to elude tacklers. Lined up inside and outside. Confident and competitive. Smart and versatile. Offers value as a punt returner.
Negatives: Lacks ideal height and has short arms and small hands. Susceptible to the jam off the line of scrimmage. Average explosion. Lacks elite top-end speed and runs upright. Average functional run strength. Underpowered blocker. Did not execute an expansive, pro-style route tree. Statistics are inflated. Durability could be an issue.
Summary: Highly productive, competitive and savvy, Broyles possesses the hands, toughness, quickness and after-the-catch ability to be an effective slot machine and zone beater who also returns punts. Torn ACL will affect draft standing.
ESPN/ Scouts, Inc. (Gary Horton): 12th-rated WR; 86th overall
Separation Skills: Works primarily from the slot. A smooth route runner that has shown improvement throughout career. Has done a much better job of setting up defenders within stem to gain initial leverage in the past two seasons on tape. Tempos routes and transitions quickly getting out of breaks. Makes crisp cuts running lateral in and out routes. Appears quicker than fast on film though and while he gets out of breaks effortlessly does not have an elite burst to run away from defenders. Needs to get stronger and can get knocked off routes on occasion. Wades through traffic well working against zone coverage. Also does a nice job of finding and sitting down in soft spots.
Ball Skills: Possesses one of the better set of hands in this year class. Catches everything with hands and rarely allows ball into frame. Displays good body control and easily opens hips to make grab when ball is thrown behind him. Also shows ability to scoop shoe string throw. Secures ball in traffic. However, smaller frame provides QB with limited strike zone. Also can be pushed around by bigger and more physical defenders in jump ball situations.
Big play ability: Quicker than fast and does not appear to have the long speed to consistently get behind defenses. However, catches the ball effortlessly on the run and quickly turns up field. An elusive and slippery runner when hitting the open field. Can create and turn and short throw into a long gain. Does not have the extra gear to consistently out run pursuit that has favorable angles.
Competitiveness: Displays the willingness to work the middle of the field. Attacks the ball in the air. In addition, has focus to secure catch while taking a big hit. Gives good effort as a run blocker but is easily shed by bigger defenders. Will hustle down field to throw block for teammates. Really improved field awareness from 2010 film to 2011 tape. Knows when to fight for extra yards and when to protect body.
Intangibles: Arrested in August of 2007 on an attempted larceny charge after trying to steal gas from a gas station. Has matured throughout career and is one of the leaders on offense heading into the 2011 season. Brings added value on special teams as a punt returner.
Broyles' situation reminds me a lot of that of Brandon Tate, the former North Carolina wideout who, as a senior in 2009, injured his knee against Notre Dame, missing the last seven games of the season. Like Broyles, Tate was highly-decorated: he had set several UNC receiving marks and was the ACC's all time leader in kickoff returns (109) and kickoff return yardage (2,688) at the time of his injury. Like Broyles, Tate recovered enough to make a showing at the Tar Heel's pro day, and, heading into the draft, was thought to be a third or fourth round pick, The Patriots, with picks to spare, took a chance on him, grabbing Tate in the third round, with the 83rd choice.
Scouts are currently predicting the same 3rd-4th round range for Broyles. Taking his successful recent workout into consideration, I'll bump him up to the third; I'd bet he'll get taken about where Tate was. The Cowboys currently hold the 85th pick; that's the one they'll have to spend on Broyles, I think, if they want him to wear the star in 2012 and beyond. So that's where I'm going to place him on my "little board"--squarely at Dallas' selection in round three.
Next up: Boise State running back Doug Martin