Latest in a series of posts on NFC North rookies who have generated some spring buzz.
You have to get past the surprise factor of Ryan Broyles' draft selection by the Detroit Lions. It's over. It happened. Then you push past the short-term obstacle of his rehabilitation from November knee surgery.
Once you get there, go ahead and start considering what Broyles might add to one of the top passing offenses in the NFL. Although he did not participate in rookie minicamp and has been limited to individual drills during organized team activities (OTAs), Broyles already has made a strong impression on Lions coaches as a potential slot receiver and playmaker down the middle of the field.
Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan isn't prone to exaggeration, so it's worth taking note of what he told Tim Twentyman of the team web site this week.
"Personally," Linehan said, "I thought he had the best understanding and feeling of the middle of the field as a receiver that I've seen in a long time. He understands the difference between a zone route and a man adjustment to the same route. It takes a long time to teach that to a guy that hasn't had that."
Linehan likes to use the same personnel at multiple positions, so it's fair to expect Broyles eventually to work on the outside as well. But at 5-foot-10 and 192 pounds, Broyles is built like a slot receiver and gained extensive experience playing there at Oklahoma.
Indeed, much of the Scouts Inc. pre-draft analysis of Broyles focused on his instincts and skills between the hashmarks. Among other things, Scouts reported that he:
"Wades through traffic well working against zone coverage."
"Does a nice job of finding and sitting down in soft spots."
"Has focus to secure catch while taking a big hit."
So what does this mean for the Lions' offense? If he returns healthy, Broyles' slot skills will add a different dimension.
We all know what Calvin Johnson can do. (Everything.) Veteran Nate Burleson has a role as a mid-range receiver, and Titus Young -- presuming he elevates his maturity level -- is a vertical threat. That leaves Broyles to work a middle area that proved so fruitful for tight end Brandon Pettigrew last season. While Pettigrew is a good athlete for his size, Broyles figures to have a better chance of making big plays after the catch.
We might be looking far into the future with that projection. It's not yet clear if Broyles will be ready to start training camp, much less participate in the early portion of the season. But eventually he will play, and the Lions are excited about it.