The comparison is lazy and predictable in today’s NFL. Any Caucasian wide receiver with a flicker of potential out of college is likened to Wes Welker, to Julian Edelman.
You know, the two white receivers who have flourished in New England. This spring, those names stalk Daniel Braverman.
Fine by him.
“Some people get frustrated or offended that you’re white and you get compared to Edelman or Welker,” Braverman said. “But, to be honest, they’re two of the best to do it from the slot position. Wes Welker was having 100 catches, 90 catches. Edelman, the same. I mean, Edelman scored the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl. If I can get compared to a guy like that or a guy who consistently catches 100 balls a year, that’s great.”
So bring 'em on, draftniks.
This year’s draft isn’t rich in top-tier, Day 1-ready talent at wide receiver like the last two. But, as always, there will be a hidden gem or two in the middle rounds.
Braverman, who's so confident in his game he decided to skip his senior season, could be Edelman Lite. All of the (non-skin toned!) signs are there. The 5-foot-10, 177-pounder is lightning quick in NYC subway-crammed quarters, using a shimmy left or right to waste defenders in his shadow — he caught 109 passes (second in the nation) for 1,367 yards and 13 touchdowns last year at Western Michigan. Growing up a soccer player helped. And, above all, he’s a thinking man’s receiver. While it’s true Edelman and Welker gained Tom Brady's trust, many, many more have crashed and burned with the four-time champion quarterback because they can’t run option routes.
They don’t see coverages through the same lens as Brady and are — poof! — gone quicker than you can say Chad Ochocinco.
Intellect is central to Braverman’s game. So, yes, he'll embrace the cliché.
“In the slot, there are a lot of quick decisions,” Braverman said. “You have to be really decisive. There are a lot of different coverage changes — you could be covered by a nickel corner, a safety, a linebacker or even a dropping D-end. People don’t realize how many moving parts there are. So you do have to be smart. They’re also super quick and have great reaction time to the moving pieces in a defense.”
The best slot receivers in today’s game burn defenses on option routes. That is, they turn left or right or slip above or beneath a defender based on how that defender leverages his coverage. Then, it’s on the Bradys to have trust in you to turn the right way. At Western Michigan, Braverman estimates 20-25 of his receptions were off option routes.
Said Braverman, “Is it in or out? You’ve got to be really smart and have great reaction time to run something like that.”
So far, some teams have put Braverman on the board to break down such X’s and O’s. Others have asked the receiver to break down his own film. He wouldn’t disclose team names but said he’s had more than 10 visits. While the Buffalo Bills haven't brought him in, they were at his pro day.
This all began for Braverman in Miramar, Fla., when he connected with former pro Sly Johnson as a seventh-grader. Right then, Johnson told the budding quarterback/running back he’d switch to receiver and play in the Mid-American Conference one day. Joked Braverman, “He pretty much called it. I’ve been with him ever since and he’s been a great part of my life.”
Because, no, this wasn’t one smooth ride. One dark, vivid memory remains: in second grade, Braverman’s mother left him — “she just walked out of my life,” he said.
As early as seventh, Braverman learned from Johnson how to run routes vs. Cover 2, Cover 3, everything. Blending in a healthy dose of soccer helped, too. Five of his peers actually play professionally today from the MLS to abroad in Peru and Spain.
“You’re touching the ball with your feet so you have to have great foot control,” Braverman said. “People post all kinds of videos about going around cones fast — now try doing that with a soccer ball. I think that has helped me with my routes because being able to do a skip or a shuffle, a karaoke step and then break out immediately in a blink of an eye before these guys can break out with me, I’m already a yard away.”
He wouldn’t be the first Bronco to make it in the NFL. That list includes Greg Jennings, Louis Delmas, E.J. Biggers, Drew Nowak and Jason Babin. Braverman has spent many hours studying Jennings’ game. But one concern? Size. He’s 30-plus pounds lighter than most.
Braverman insists he has no reservations about drifting over the middle of the field where Edelman and Welker have taken their share of hits… and concussions.
“I’m passionate about wherever I have to be and what I have to do,” he said. “And if the job calls for catching the ball across the middle, I have to do it.
“You have to do what you have to do.”
He doesn’t want to hear anyone downplaying those 108 catches as the product of a system, of lesser competition either, sniping “That doesn’t happen on accident.” True, Braverman ripped an Ohio State defense loaded with NFL talent for 123 yards on 10 catches, including one 55-yard score (see video below). Edelman? He played in the same conference... as a quarterback.
So after losing Chris Hogan to the Patriots in free agency, the Bills will be one of many teams taking a long look at Braverman in the slot.
While this is a run-first offense, one that utilizes the quarterback more as a gazelle than a mad scientist, quite possibly a shifty inside receiver like Braverman is the missing piece. If you can't beat 'em, copy 'em. After 16 years, it may be time to take a page out of New England's playbook.
Braverman is confident he'll deliver.
“I know I’ll put in more hours than most people,” he said. “And that’s why I feel I’ll be successful in the NFL. The hours I put in pre-practice, post-practice and in the off-season — the extra time. Not doing just what everybody else is doing.
“Doing something extra.”
(Note: Leading up to the NFL Draft, we'll chat with NFL prospects in "Draft Spotlight" and Position-by-Position previews on the BN Blitz Blog.)