Brandon Stokley: Denver Broncos' Wes Welker?
Many have speculated that Eddie Royal would be the next Wes Welker in Denver, but signs point to a different Bronco taking on that role.
Ever since Josh McDaniels was named the head coach in Denver, fans and pundits alike have dubbed the Broncos "the Patriots West."
Coach McDaniels brought with him the potent offensive system that he ran so successfully in New England when he landed in Denver.
Naturally, this has caused speculation and comparisons, as people ponder who on the Broncos roster will fill the roles that Randy Moss and Wes Welker occupied in New England.
Most have automatically assumed that Brandon Marshall fills Moss's role and Denver's rookie phenom from last year, Eddie Royal, would step right in to the slot position and become the Wes Welker for the "Patriots West" Denver Broncos.
The indications we get from training camp thus far seem to tell a different story, though.
Randy Moss (6'4", 210 lbs.) and Brandon Marshall (6'4", 230 lbs.) share similar physical characteristics in size, height and weight, but what sets them apart is the way they play the game.
Randy Moss is a burner, he uses his speed to beat a corner down field and uses his height and leaping ability to secure the ball when covered tight.
While Marshall shares the same height advantage, he does not have the same speed. This makes Marshall more of a possession receiver than a speed guy.
Marshall makes up for his lack of speed by using his size to his advantage. Marshall is difficult to bring down, and is elusive when he gets the ball in the open field.
You don't see Marshall beating a corner deep for a long gain; you see him get separation and make a catch 12 yards out and then break a tackle and make a move to get those extra yards.
Eddie Royal, on the other hand, has the speed to beat a corner deep, and has the sure hands to make the catch. The only thing Eddie lacks is the height to win the jumpball of an imprecisely thrown pass.
Forgetting about a number system that ranks receivers and simply focusing on who is going to play the role of running the deep ball routes, Eddie Royal will be the Randy Moss in Denver's new offense.
So what role will Brandon Marshall play then? Is Brandon Marshall Denver's Wes Welker?
Though Wes Welker's production has been prolific and he is considered the No. 2 receiver in New England, Welker got his yards operating on the inside, slot or at the No. 3 wide receiver position.
New England, and not Denver, had another receiver (often new Bronco and former Patriot Jabar Gaffney) run routes from the other outside receiver spot.
Once he is healthy, and if he wins his day in court, I see Marshall filling this role where his routes would be more intermediary than deep, which would play to his strengths.
So who would be the Wes Welker slot receiver for the Denver Broncos?
Who, other than the guy who has spent the last two years in Denver's slot, Brandon Stokley?
"Brandon Stokley is one of the toughest slot receivers I've coached against; (he is) everything I thought he was when I came here," McDaniels said, adding that Stokley "just has a knack of how to get open. That's an invaluable skill for a wide receiver, particularly on third down."
McDaniels recognizes Stokley's abilities as a slot receiver and plans to use him in this capacity because it is what Stokley does best.
Stokley has all the tools of the prototypical slot receiver. The only question may be if he can handle the workload.
Over the past two seasons, Wes Welker has tallied an NFL high 223 receptions out of the slot position.
Over that same span, Stokley caught only 89 balls and missed six games due to injury. Add to that the fact that he recently turned 33, and you might doubt whether Stokley has the durability needed to be "Wes Welker" in Denver.
Stokley believes he is up to the task, "I think I can play a lot of plays and take the grind of the season. I worked hard in the offseason and I'm ready to go, man. I'm ready to play football."
Coach McDaniels thinks he can handle it as well, "We'll play Brandon probably more than they did last year just because of the way we are going to be in three-receiver offense as much as we may end up being in it."
Stokley is already proving he can handle the workload this off-season. Having developed a strong chemistry with his new quarterback, Kyle Orton, through OTA's and minicamp, the Orton-to-Stokley connection is one that can be seen often in training camp.
The Denver Broncos' official Twitter has tweeted the following over the past week: “Orton finds Stokley deep down the middle for a long gain” and "Orton-to-Stokley for a touchdown, followed by a two-point conversion."
Mike Klis of the Denver Post has observed this connection as well, "During a 7-on-7 pass coverage drill early in the Broncos' practice at training camp, Orton threw a ball 40 yards until it landed perfectly in Brandon Stokley's hands"
"Orton completed so many passes to Brandon Stokley during the controlled scrimmage at Invesco Field at Mile High on Aug. 6 that no one should have trouble learning who will play the Wes Welker role in the Broncos' new offense this year."
In the end, no two receivers are the same, but, in a straight up comparison, Eddie Royal is Denver's Randy Moss (deep threat), Brandon Marshall is the other outside receiver (intermediate possession guy), and Brandon Stokley is Denver's Wes Welker.
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