In my weekly column, we take a long look at two rookies. I compare their performance to date against my original expectations of them. Let’s continue this series off by looking back at Detroit Lions wide receiver Ryan Broyles and Dallas Cowboys running back Lance Dunbar after their Week Twelve Thanksgiving Games:
Ryan Broyles, WR DET
My original thoughts of the wide receiver in college: Broyles was a special athlete before he had his ACL injury in the fall. I re-watched his games against Texas, Kansas State, and U Conn. The young receiver has amazing hands, catches the ball at its highest point, uses the sidelines well, and is a terror in the open field with the ball in his hands. He sits down in the zone, runs crisp routes and has fantastic body control.
Broyles tends to play bigger than his size (only 5′ 10″, 188 lbs) as he doesn’t shy away from contact and sometimes even somersaults his way forward which can cause him to take unnecessary hits. He seems to like the physical style of play that reminds me of Carolina’s Steve Smith – this may bring him more attention from the defensive backs. I doubt he will be at full strength when he enters the NFL due to his ACL injury, but he has the physical gifts to become a WR2 within a year if he fully recovers.
Here is what I saw from Broyles against the Texans: I came away very impressed by the young wide receiver on Thanksgiving. Not all of that can be ascertained by his stat line – six receptions for 126 yards out of 12 targets. Matthew Stafford threw to him almost as much as he did Calvin Johnson (17 targets). His quarterback’s first throw of the day was a 25 yard completion to the rookie where Broyles made the Texans pay by taking advantage of their one-on-one coverage. He was mostly used out of the slot and put into motion to get a free release. While he isn’t a great blocker, he was showing a great deal of effort both on running and passing plays.
The Lions had him run underneath routes occasionally almost mirroring Johnson’s deeper patterns to force the defense to commit to one of them. He has a great knack for getting free with screens and taking advantage of all the defense’s concerns with Number 81. Broyles had an early chance to score, but had the ball knocked out of his hands in the end zone. If he had not bobbled the pigskin prior to the defender’s contact, he would have had the first score of the game.
Stafford was not afraid to target him deep as the two just missed out on a 40+ yard connection that fell a few feet in front of Broyles. It was a bit concerning they did not always have the former Sooner in their five receiver sets. There was one formation where Detroit featured all three of their tight ends, Johnson, and newly acquired wide receiver Mike Thomas instead. His biggest impact play of the first half was a bubble screen he took 38 yards down the field with less than 2 minutes left – that play set up a 22 yard Johnson touchdown.
Broyles continued to assist Stafford as he came back to bail his quarterback from an impending blitz. This mind meld was evident with the first play in overtime as they connected for a 40 yard bomb as he read Stafford’s cues and took the pattern long. The young receiver wasn’t without his blemishes. He had a costly bobble in overtime that could have set up a field goal and almost led to a costly interception.
This talented rookie is producing this year. Please take out the first five games of the season as he was recovering from knee surgery and only received a single target during that time frame. On his next 30 passes thrown his way, Broyles has pulled down 21 of them for 307 yards and two touchdowns. With Titus Young becoming more of a discipline issue, I would highly recommend anyone that can acquire him now for a reasonable price, do so immediately. His stock will only continue to rise. I envision that he will become a WR2 within the next 12 months.
Lance Dunbar, RB DAL
My original thoughts of him in college: Dunbar has the rare ability to get to full speed within a few footsteps from a complete stop. He takes advantage of his exceptional 4.3 speed, and can make defenders miss with his juke moves and agility Durability has not been a concern so far in his career. He has decent field vision and hands so he may find success as a third down back in the NFL.
Dunbar is not a complete running back as he struggles with maintaining his balance and is not very adept at running between the tackles. There is not much of a physical side to him as he doesn’t pass block well or show any power breaking tackles once a defender gets ahold of him. He may only see NFL action once injuries occur to more talented starters and backups that would be further up the depth chart.
Here is what I saw from Dunbar against the Redskins: He was used primarily as a kickoff returner and a change of pace back despite earlier reports in the week to the contrary. On his first and only carry of the game, he looked explosive and broke the grasp of the first defender to get an eight yard gain. I was disappointed he didn’t show any amount of vision or wiggle during his two short kickoff returns.
His presence was felt in the passing game. Dunbar saw a career high six targets while catching three of them for 21 yards. He showed some proclivity as a pass blocker seeking out defenders to engage. During the closing moments of the first half, the young running back was used in the hurry-up offense. On his first red zone target, he was quickly tackled for a loss on a swing pass. He seemed to surprised that the defensive back closed in on him right away. The former North Texas standout appears to lack the necessary on field awareness during times of pressure. Dunbar didn’t realize he was the hot read in the flat near the goal line, nor did he shorten his route to come back to his quarterback while under duress.
This rookie running back needs to have more seasoning to ever become an impact player in the NFL. Dunbar has produced 102 combined yards on 26 total offensive touches, but I’m not sure if he has the skill set or size to ever be a solid fantasy contributor. I would consider him a RB7 with a bit more upside in a return yardage scoring league.