“This year I’m going to try to be the black Wes Welker,” Burleson told NFL Network last September. “I’m going to get as many catches in that slot or on the outside opposite Calvin (Johnson) because he’s going to attract a lot of attention all year.”
Truth is, Burleson was really on to something with this mindset. His thought process, which Pro Football Talk's Michael David Smith clarifies in the article linked above, was that the Lions' offense in 2011 could become a spitting image of that record-setting Patriots' O from 2007.
More specifically, he expected Megatron to serve as Randy Moss, while he played the role of the 5'9, 185-pound Welker.
Some of you have already compared these stats, I'm sure, and B/R writer Greg Maiola previously sparked a lively debate which compared Moss' 2007 numbers to those of Johnson's in 2011.
But let's compare Burleson and Welker to see how well his plan came to fruition.
Just throwing it out there, I believe Megatron's 2011 campaign was every bit as dominating as Moss' record-setting performance, but that's not why we're here.
In all honesty, it was an admirable effort by Burleson. The soon-to-be 31-year-old posted a career high in receptions in what was his ninth NFL season.
But, as you can see, all other categories fall considerably short. Stafford and Burleson converted on 68% percent of all attempted connections—a solid catch rate—but clearly failed to match the efficiency (77%) Brady and Welker displayed in 2007.
To make this overly-long story short, the Lions' duo of top wideouts simply did not equal the production of the Moss-Welker tandem in 2007.
But who else has been able to, before or after? Nobody.
The reason I'm writing this article, however, is because the Lions' front office may have found a partner for Megatron in the 2012 NFL draft that can help make this dream a reality.
That man is 5’10”, 188-pound Ryan Broyles.
The Lions selected Broyles with the 54th pick in the second round of the NFL draft this spring, despite the general assumption that the former Oklahoma Sooners' draft stock would take a substantial hit as a result of a torn ACL suffered in November of 2011.
But that didn’t stop Martin Mayhew and Co. from pulling the trigger on what was viewed as one of the biggest reaches of draft weekend.
By adding Broyles to an already stout corps of receivers, the Lions' front office essentially declared to the rest of the NFL that they're going to win by outscoring opponents, plain and simple.
Burleson is going to remain a factor for at least one more year, second-year WR Titus Young is on the rise and Brandon Pettigrew has developed into one of the better tight ends in the NFL.
Add in a guy, who if not for the ACL tear could've been a first-round pick, and it may not matter how many injuries and drug charges Detroit has piling up in their backfield.
Broyles may possess the frame of an undersized slot receiver, but he plays with the aggressiveness of his new teammate Calvin Johnson.
He goes all out, all the time.
This mentality is what's made Welker so successful at football's highest level, and I think Broyles has all the makings to follow a similar path to stardom.
Welker is known for having top-notch hands, running some of the crispest routes you'll see on Sundays, and consistently launching himself into harm's way to keep the offense moving down the field.
These are all Broyles' strengths as well, and he hasn't even played a down in the NFL.
But the former Oklahoma Sooner broke the FBS receptions record in his four collegiate seasons, totaling 349 catches, including a 131-catch junior season and a 83-catch senior season that was cut short by the season-ending ACL injury.
The youngster also posted 1,000-yards and double-digit touchdowns for three straight years, including 1,622 yards and 14 TD's during that 131-catch junior season.
Here are the strengths listed for Broyles on his NFL.com combine profile page.
Despite his stature, Broyles gets off the line of scrimmage well when given a free release or a chance to use a jab step that allows him to stem and get up field quickly. His overall football savvy and athletic ability should allow him to adjust smoothly to play at the next level. Although he can make catches across the middle, he is most effective in space or when being covered man-to-man, as he displays an uncanny ability to get open. Broyles is an incredible catcher. He can torque his body in any way necessary to secure balls thrown near him. He uses his body control to turn and secure the ball. Despite his small frame, he can turn and run through arm tackles at times. He is a great option as a short receiver, which allows him to utilize his quickness and agility to separate from defenders and secure a catch. Broyles has produced consistently in the Big 12, his transitional phase should be short, especially if he plays in the slot.
Can Ryan Broyles Become The Next Wes Welker?
As a 49er fan, I was desperately hoping GM Trent Baalke and the rest of the Niners' war room would snatch up Broyles if they didn't take a receiver in the first couple of rounds. I even wrote an article back in March that listed the former Oklahoma star as a potential sleeper San Francisco should target.
Even for me, though, it's easy to see how much brighter of a career Broyles can potentially have in Detroit's pass-happy, high-octane offense.
Often times, Belichick and the Patriots use Welker and the short passing game to basically serve as their running game. This is something Burleson envisioned himself becoming, but I think Broyles is a much better fit for the part.
As you know, Brady and Welker are ridiculously efficient in what they do, and I believe Stafford and Broyles can develop that same type of connection over time.
Broyles clearly displays the quickness, sure handedness, elusiveness and many other "nesses" required to become a top-flight NFL WR, while making a living roaming the open turf that Megatron's presence creates.
A strong work ethic is a requirement, and health must be sustained, of course.
But, speaking of health, Broyles and the Pats' star WR have something else in common.
When Welker tore both his MCL and ACL in Week 17 of the 2009 season, almost no one believed he'd be ready to play the beginning of the 2010 season, and some thought he'd miss the entire year.
Nevertheless, the then 28-year-old rehabbed himself back to full health and suited up for the 2010 season opener, hauling in eight passes—two of them for touchdowns.
Many assumed Broyles was a prime PUP list candidate for the beginning of 2012. Yet he too showed a miraculous ability to recover from injury and is already participating at Lions' training camp.
Of course, I don't expect Broyles' rise to stardom to occur in Week 1 of the upcoming season. But I certainly believe he has an unlimited ceiling when placed into a role which mirrors that of Welker's in New England.
For now, Broyles will take whatever reps he can get, and try to gain some playing time as a kick and punt returner as well.
If I remember right, that No. 83 over in New England was a damn good returner back in his younger years, too.