No wide receiver has worn the No. 85 as well as former Oklahoma standout Ryan Broyles. That’s a meaningful statement on this, the 85th day until kickoff of the 2016 college football season.
Other college star receivers to have donned No. 85 include Notre Dame stars Jack Snow and Jim Seymour. Snow set numerous receiving records at Notre Dame; Ryan Broyles did likewise at Oklahoma.
Seymour was a two-time, 1st Team All-American; as was Broyles.
What separates Broyles as the preeminent No. 85 is his place throughout NCAA record books. Not only is he the best No. 85 in college football history, he’s in the conversation for the best collegiate receiver.
Name a pass-catching metric, and Broyles ranks among the game’s best. He’s second all-time in career receiving yards at 4,586 and total receptions with 349, and fourth in touchdowns at 45.
2010 was his masterpiece. Broyles caught a nation-leading 131 passes for 1,622 yards with 14 touchdowns. In a Halloween eve pasting of Colorado, Broyles set Oklahoma’s single-game receiving record with 208 yards, prompting a simple yet perfect assessment of his play from head coach Bob Stoops:
“That guy is just amazing.”
Despite his stellar play as a junior, Broyles spread his production well throughout each of his four seasons in Norman. At 687 yards and six touchdowns as a freshman in 2008, Broyles had a central role in Sam Bradford’s Heisman Trophy win, as well as the last national title game appearance for the Sooners.
Perhaps most impressive, however, is Broyles netting All-American recognition for a second time despite playing in just nine games due to injury.
He scored 10 touchdowns and threatened 1,200 yards on the year. When absent from the lineup, quarterback Landry Jones struggled. Evaluating Oklahoma with and without Ryan Broyles in 2011 puts into perspective just how asinine Trent Dilfer’s 2013 NFL draft tirade about the Sooners’ “brutal” wide receivers really was.
Brutal? If you were a defensive coordinator tasked with containing Broyles, absolutely. He proved as much of a headache for opposing defenses as the other all-time great, college wide receivers like Randy Moss, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Crabtree.
Where Broyles’ numbers stand tall compared to these names, however, is that he lacked their size. At 5-foot-10, Broyles didn’t go over the top of smaller defensive backs. He also didn’t thrive solely on open-field explosiveness. Broyles’ ability to make defenders miss on shorter passes, grab passes in narrow windows on medium-range targets and beat corners and safeties for long balls made him a true, all-around pass-catching threat.
He’s more comparable to Florida State legend Peter Warrick, another speedster who doubled as a dynamic return man.