Nearly everyone who follows the Detroit Lions reacted the same way — “You’ve got to be kidding me,” with a few expletives mixed in — when the team selected Ryan Broyles in the second round of last year’s NFL Draft.
It was nothing against Broyles personally, nor an indication of his potential. After all, he had been a record-setting receiver at Oklahoma.
But he also had undergone surgery on his left knee five months earlier for a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Why in the world would general manager Martin Mayhew take another receiver with that pick when the team already had Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson and Titus Young at the same position, and so desperately needed defensive help?
It was certainly an odd decision, one that Mayhew may never quite live down.
Eight picks after the Lions took Broyles, division rival Green Bay selected Vanderbilt cornerback Casey Hayward. The rap on Hayward was that he wasn’t athletic enough, but his instincts proved to be off the charts for a rookie.
Hayward, who has excelled at covering slot receivers, made six interceptions, defended 21 passes, was never called for a pass-interference penalty and is a leading candidate for the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
One of his best games came in Detroit in November, when he had one interception and five pass break-ups.
For the most part, opponents stopped throwing his direction much after he picked off four passes over a three-week stretch in October. Pro Football Focus graded him as the No. 3 cornerback in the league in 2012.
Hayward would have been a much-welcomed addition to the Detroit secondary.
The Lions also could have filled the void left by Jahvid Best’s absence if they’d taken Oregon running back LaMichael James with that second-round pick. James went to San Francisco seven picks after Broyles.
Although he didn’t get a whole lot of playing time for the NFC champs, James still showed he’s going to be the big-play speed threat that the Lions have sorely lacked without Best in the backfield.
Instead, the Lions chose Broyles. It was starting to look like a wiser choice when Burleson suffered a broken leg and Young was benched for disciplinary reasons, but then Broyles got injured again, too.
This time, it was his right knee that needed surgery for another torn ACL. Broyles ended up playing in 10 games, including three starts. He made 22 catches for 310 yards and two touchdowns.
His breakout performance came on Thanksgiving Day, with Burleson and Young both out of the lineup. Broyles had six receptions for 126 yards against Houston, but he was injured early in the next game and missed the rest of the season.
“He gave us a glimpse of what he’s capable of,” Mayhew said. “He had a couple of really impressive games. As soon as we got really excited about him, he got hurt and was done for the year. We didn’t get a whole lot out of Ryan.
“You’d like that guy to come in and contribute from day one and catch 40 balls, 50 balls as a rookie. It just didn’t happen for him because of the injury.”
Broyles underwent surgery on Dec. 6, about two weeks later than he did a year earlier.
The Lions were careful to bring him along slowly during the last rehab. Broyles was limited throughout most of the off-season practices and training camp. He missed the opening preseason game but played in the final three.
Broyles was then inactive for the regular-season opener and didn’t make an appearance on the field until the third week.
“I understand what I have to do this time to come back,” Broyles said. “I’m looking forward to the challenge. I want to play a whole season.
“I worked my way back just to play football. That being taken away from me is a tough situation, with all the time I put into it. I’m just looking forward to getting back out there.”
Broyles said the torn ligament didn’t seem as bad as the one he suffered in college.
Mayhew anticipates a similar timetable for the recovery.
“Ryan had a great rehab on his first ACL,” the Lions GM said. “He’s a tough guy. He’s a hard worker. I feel pretty confident he’s going to get through this one, too, but (next season) might be the same way (2012) was. He may not do much during camp and he may come on around mid-season.”
Everybody who questioned Mayhew’s selection will be watching very closely, not only with what happens for Broyles but also the ones that got away.
The Lions are expected to announce Monday that they’ve hired John Bonamego as their special-teams coordinator to replace Danny Crossman, who left to take the same position in Buffalo.
Bonamego, 49, a Mount Pleasant, Mich. native and former Central Michigan player, has been a special-teams coach for four different NFL teams over the last 14 seasons. He was the special-teams coordinator for Jacksonville in 2012.