Looks can be deceiving. Just ask any of the defensive backs who have had to cover 6’0″, 192-pound slot receiver Brandon Stokley during his productive 14-year career.
The slot isn’t for the faint of heart nor is it for the unsure receiver. Courage, good hands, quickness, and speed are required for someone to play the slot, but to do it at a high level for well over a decade is downright impressive.
For Peyton Manning, Stokley is a source of familiarity. Of Stokley’s 19 receptions this year, 13 of them have gone for first downs. He seems to be ole’ reliable, the guy who always makes the play at the critical time, and the guy that Manning looks to when the situation is most dire.
Often over looked because of his size or because of his low-key nature, Stokley is tied for first with Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, and Joel Dreessen with three touchdown receptions on the season.
Perhaps one of the best catches of his career came when the Broncos were down 24-21 with 9:03 left in the game against the San Diego Chargers on Monday night. On first down from the San Diego 21-yard line, Manning placed a perfectly thrown ball up for Stokley to make the leaping grab. Just like that the Broncos claimed the lead for the first time in the game and never gave it up. Just like that, the world found out the Stokley still has some get-up in those legs.
Ater playing for five different teams, twice with the Broncos, and twice with Manning, Stokley has averaged just 35.7 yards per game in his career. That stat alone doesn’t stand out, but his longevity and his reliability do. He has 4,896 yards, 37 touchdowns, and just two lost fumbles in his entire career. Two!
Maybe Stokley should be conducting a meeting on fumbles for the team that ranks 31st in fumbles with nine through six games.
Stokley could have been sitting on his couch this season had it not been for Manning. NFL personnel departments were concerned about his age, and Stokley was about ready to hang up the cleats to spend more time with his family.
Oh, what a future Hall of Fame quarterback can do to get you back out on the field.
The Manning-to-Stokley connection has been a powerful one, and we’re lucky that it’s in Denver right now. As the team’s young receivers are still occasionally plagued by drops and fumbles, Stokley may be simple, but he’s got his hands firmly gripped around the reality of the sport.