Digging in the Dirt: Four Deep Receivers Who Might Not Suck
Photo/Rick Osentoski
Photo/Rick Osentoski

Don’t talk back
Just drive the car
Shut your mouth
I know what you are

–Peter Gabriel

Sometimes we’re sure we know something. Like, this player stinks, or that player has no future. But sometimes, we might be wrong.

Ryan Broyles, Lions

There hasn’t been much to like about Broyles so far in his career- unless you’re a sick bastard who likes leg injuries. And he’s not much of a typical RotoViz guy- short, old (already 26), not that fast.

But this caught my eye:

.@RyanBroyles should explode in this offense. Broyles is the king of option routes and the saints had a bunch. Linehan not an option guy.

— SandmanLions (@Sandman7773) June 3, 2014

Hopefully the exploding won’t be done by his knees. But if Detroit’s offense is as prolific as expected, any pass catcher likely to see significant snaps might have some value. Broyles seems to be a really smart guy who could handle some option routes. And if Broyles stays healthy, why not him? Early word is that he’s back in action, pain free, and well on his way to being full-go by training camp.

Our common thought about Broyles is that he’s “always injured” but he has managed to appear in 16 games. So you could consider him a second year receiver who’s just completed his rookie season. In that case, things don’t seem as bad. Of course, that’s still not much to go on, but let’s see what we can learn about Broyles.

In case you missed it, RotoViz has a new Game Splits App that lets you check the performance of players with or without certain variables being present. Let’s take a look at Matthew Stafford’s production with and without Broyles:


Stafford’s 14 games with Broyles were much better than his 18 games without. This does NOT mean that Broyles is the only reason for the difference, or even that Broyles is particularly good.But it’s possible that he has a positive influence on the offense when he’s on the field.

This table comes from the AYA App, which shows Stafford’s AYA over the past two seasons when targeting specific players.

Matthew Stafford Calvin Johnson WR 356 202 3382 16 12 8.88
Matthew Stafford Kevin Ogletree WR 25 13 199 1 0 8.76
Matthew Stafford Joseph Fauria TE 30 18 207 7 2 8.57
Matthew Stafford Ryan Broyles WR 46 30 395 2 1 8.48
Matthew Stafford Joique Bell RB 134 102 1001 0 0 7.47
Matthew Stafford Nate Burleson WR 97 66 701 3 2 6.92
Matthew Stafford Reggie Bush RB 80 54 506 3 1 6.51
Matthew Stafford Titus Young WR 55 32 337 3 2 5.58
Matthew Stafford Brandon Pettigrew TE 164 99 964 5 4 5.39
Matthew Stafford Kris Durham WR 106 46 615 3 4 4.67
Matthew Stafford Tony Scheffler TE 97 49 586 1 5 3.93
Matthew Stafford Mike Thomas WR 13 5 28 1 0 3.69
Matthew Stafford Jeremy Ross WR 10 5 59 1 1 3.4

Yes, it’s only 46 targets, but an 8.48 AYA is pretty respectable. Especially in the “pantheon” of Lions pass catchers. So the point here is that Broyles has shown enough talent and production to be on your radar if he stays healthy.

Maybe you’d rather consider T.J. Jones for the Lions 3rd receiver spot. Shawn Siegele recently compared T.J. Jones to Antonio Brown, and noted that Jones could be used as an outside receiver, something I’m not sure Broyles could do. He’s definitely intriguing as well. But he’s also got lower draft equity and is a rookie. TE Eric Ebron will get lots of slot work, but since 1990 only 19 rookie TEs (less than 1/year) have caught 40 or more passes. There should still be targets to go around.

Juron Criner, Raiders

Criner is entering his third season already, and has just 19 career receptions. Mostly he’s missed time due to injury, but that’s its own kind of red flag, isn’t it? Then there’s the fact that he’ll be catching passes from the arguably declining Matt Schaub, who in turn is likely to be replaced by our fourth-ranked rookie QB Derek Carr. Not a promising scenario.

But it’s not like there’s a lot of obstacles to playing time. The Raiders signed 30 year old James Jones this offseason. If you check the Game Splits App you’ll see that whether or not James Jones played had little if any affect on Aaron Rodgers’ numbers. In other words, Jones isn’t a difference making WR. After that there’s underwhelming Denarius Moore, a pending free agent, and erstwhile “sleepers” Rod Streater, Andre Holmes, and Brice Butler. Streater does have some actual NFL production to look at, which gives him a leg up on Criner for sure. But consider that Criner (24) is younger than Streater and Holmes (both 26), and was drafted higher1 than any of the other three.

Last season Ryan Rouillard wrote the definitive Juron Criner article. Check it out for some more thoughts about his potential.

Tavarres King, Carolina

Remember when Carolina cleaned out their WR corps and we all joked about how their starting WRs this year would be Marvin McNutt and Tavarres King? Good times. Since then the Panthers drafted Kelvin Benjamin and signed veterans Jason Avant, Jerricho Cotchery, and Tiquan Underwood. So that’s it For King, right? Not so fast.

Jason Avant is 31, and despite the absence of Jeremy Maclin, did very little in Philadelphia’s offense last year. Jerricho Cotchery is also 31. Yes, I know he scored 10 TDs last season. I also know that’s more than he scored in the four previous seasons combined. Tiquan Underwood is younger (27), and has 1006 yards receiving – in his entire 5 year career.

I believe this to be an accurate assessment of how the Panthers view these veteran receivers:

The veterans arrived with reputations as nice guys who would not feel threatened by their younger colleagues. 

In other words, stop-gaps. Mentors. Seat-warmers. Fort holder-downers. You get the idea.

So what of the Panthers pass game opportunities? Greg Olsen is top dog.2 Also, first rounder Kelvin Benjamin figures to see the field a lot, and could pay early dividends. After that? Why not King? Despite entering his second NFL season, he’s only 6 months older than Kelvin Benjamin. He’s got some intriguing comps. And Ted Thompson tried to sign him last year.

Kenny Britt, St. Louis

Britt’s physical talent and off field/injury concerns are well known and need no regurgitation here. OK, maybe just a little. He’s still only 26, for starters, and has an impressive athletic resume. Also, with Sam Bradford injured, the Rams fell from 17th in pass attempts in 2012 to 28th last season. If Bradford stays healthy, look for the volume of pass attempts to increase.

Coach Jeff Fisher doesn’t strike me as the overly sentimental type, so I wouldn’t expect him to have loyalty to either Brian Quick or Austin Pettis (the other two “big” receivers on the roster), if Britt stays healthy and keeps his head on straight. He’s generating some positive buzz in OTAs, for what it’s worth. Austin Pettis, meanwhile, is rumored to be in jeopardy of losing his roster spot. Working in Britt’s favor (and Pettis, for that matter), is the fact that Stedman Bailey is suspended for four games to start the season. That creates an opportunity for Britt, that will be worth keeping an eye on.


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  1. albeit still only in the 5th round  (back)
  2. cat?  (back)
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