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January 26, 2010

Broyles heads list of explosive returning players

In two seasons, wide receiver Ryan Broyles frequently has thrilled Oklahoma coaches and fans with spectacular returns. But no return was more thrilling than the one that just occurred.

Broyles was eligible for early entry into the NFL because he redshirted in 2007. And his draft stock would have been boosted after he had 13 catches for 156 yards and three touchdowns in a Sun Bowl victory over Stanford. Plus, he saw firsthand what can happen to star players who shun the NFL draft. Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford and tight end Jermaine Gresham were projected as high first-round picks after brilliant performances in the 2008 season. They chose to stay in school but both were injured, with Gresham missing the entire '09 season.

Still, Broyles opted to stay at OU, which ensures that next season the Sooners will have one of the nation's most explosive players. He has the speed to beat cornerbacks deep and the moves to turn short passes into long gains.

"I really didn't give [entering the draft] too much thought," he said. "I submitted my papers to see where I'd go, but they said I should come back.

"I can get faster and I definitely can get stronger and I definitely can get bigger. I'm not ready for the NFL. I still have some things to prove."

Broyles already has proved himself in many ways. Last season, he ranked third in the country by averaging 15.9 yards per punt return. That included an 87-yard touchdown against Oklahoma State. He also had 1,120 yards receiving and 15 touchdowns despite missing the game against Baylor and being limited against Miami and Texas because of injury.

He has proved himself off the field, too. Broyles was suspended in 2007 by Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops after Broyles was arrested for stealing gasoline from a convenience store. He's had no other off-field incidents.

"That was my freshman year," Broyles said. "Hopefully, everybody has forgiven me. I've had no other trouble since I've been here. I've learned life's lessons. I've matured."

The next step in Broyles' on-field maturity is adding a leadership role. He plans to take on that responsibility when the Sooners open spring practice in March. Still, his greatest contribution will remain his big-play ability.

This past season, Broyles had 23 plays covering at least 20 yards. Ten of his receptions covered at least 30 yards. He scored more touchdowns (17) than any returning receiver in the nation.

"I pride myself on being able to score every time I touch the ball," Broyles said. "You have to have that mentality. As a receiver, you don't get that many chances. I'm blessed to get six or seven catches a game.

"Some guys are content to get a catch or a first down. I'm not satisfied. I want to score. That's the ultimate goal and I believe I can score on any play. I want to be the best receiver in the nation. I've heard talk about my being the best receiver coming back in the Big 12. That motivates me."

Broyles is also motivated by the reaction from all those Oklahoma fans when he makes a big play.

"I like to see the expressions on people's faces," he said. "People want to be entertained. I try to be electric and make them jump up and down."

Big-play threats
Here's a list of the nation's 10 most explosive rushers, receivers and returners for 2010.

1. WR Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma: He had seven plays that covered at least 40 yards. He was especially dangerous in the last three games of '09: 376 total receiving yards and punt returns of 59, 87 and 42 yards.

2. WR Jonathan Baldwin, Pittsburgh: Baldwin, who is 6 feet 5 and 225 pounds, has emerged as one of the country's premier deep threats. In 2009, he had 11 catches of at least 30 yards and 22 plays that covered at least 20 yards. In his final three regular-season games, he had catches that gained 36 and 51 yards against Notre Dame, 50 yards against West Virginia and 40 yards against Cincinnati. He also had a 61-yard run against USF.

3. RB Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech: What does he do for an encore? If Williams shows much improvement over his redshirt freshmen season, watch out. He ripped off at least one play for at least 20 yards in 11 of the Hokies' 13 games. He settled for a long run of 19 yards against N.C. State, although he scored four touchdowns in that game. Williams had 23 plays that covered at least 20 yards. That included a 43-yard reception and a 32-yard touchdown run against Alabama. He also had touchdown runs of 57 yards against Marshall, 66 yards against Georgia Tech and 61 yards against Virginia.

4. RB Noel Devine, West Virginia: Every time Devine touches the ball, opposing fans, players and coaches hold their breath. In three seasons, he has scored nine touchdowns on runs of at least 25 yards. In '09, he had 14 runs of at least 20 yards, and half of them covered at least 56 yards. He had scoring runs of 71, 77, 88 and 56 yards. He also had runs of 56, 63 and 70 yards in which he did not score.

5. RB Mark Ingram, Alabama: The Heisman isn't won without a degree of explosiveness. Ingram routinely showed his big-play capability in rushing for 1,658 yards and 17 touchdowns. He had 21 plays of at least 20 yards. His biggest plays included a 70-yard touchdown run against Mississippi State and a 69-yard reception against Florida.

6. RB LaMichael James, Oregon: Trying to tackle James is like squeezing a wet bar of soap. He isn't big, but he has great speed and needs only a slight hole to make a big play. James had 20 plays of at least 20 yards, though he hardly played in the Ducks' first two games. He had six runs that covered more than 40 yards. Those included touchdown runs of 52 yards against Oregon State, 56 against Washington and 60 against Stanford. James' 6.72-yard average per carry is the highest among returning 1,000-yard rushers from "Big Six" conferences.

7. RB Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State: The little guy is a big-time threat as a runner and receiver. He had 19 plays that covered more than 20 yards and seven that covered more than 40. He had a play of at least 20 yards in 12 of 13 games; in the one game he didn't, he had a long run of 19 yards against Arizona.

8. WR Titus Young, Boise State: Young was a major factor in Boise State leading the nation in scoring. Overall, he had 17 catches and two runs that covered at least 20 yards. Seven of his catches gained more than 40 yards. Young also returned kickoffs 100 and 95 yards for touchdowns. He had another 77-yard return in which he did not score.

9. WR Michael Floyd, Notre Dame: Imagine the stats Floyd could have produced if he hadn't missed five games with a broken collarbone. Before his injury, Floyd had four catches of more than 30 yards - including touchdowns that covered 70 and 88 yards. He eventually averaged 18.1 yards on 44 catches, scored nine touchdowns and had 13 plays of at least 20 yards. All that basically came in half a season.

10. WR A.J. Green, Georgia: The rest of the SEC hopes Georgia can't find a quarterback who consistently gets the ball to Green. Although he missed three games, Green still had 16 receptions of at least 20 yards. He had touchdown grabs of 25 and 28 against Arkansas, 56 against Arizona State and 65 against Vanderbilt.

Olin Buchanan is a senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.

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