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This is the 37th in a series of scouting reports on key players who are expected to become free agents March 13, unless they are re-signed or franchised before then.
News: Nearly all of the attention on the Broncos' offense last season was paid to QB Tim Tebow, who led the team to the postseason after taking over the starting job. What didn't receive many headlines was the disappointing campaign from Royal, who has made a regression in production a yearly tradition since entering the league. He never found a role in coordinator Mike McCoy's offensive scheme and was more valuable to the team as a punt returner.
Notes: In Royal's rookie season of 2008, he looked to be on track to become one of the top slot receivers in the league. He caught 91 passes from QB Jay Cutler and was a legitimate deep threat, finishing the season with eight receptions of 20 yards or longer. Since then, however, Royal has never come close to that reception total with Kyle Orton and Tebow delivering the ball. Last season, he bottomed out with 19 receptions and was passed on the depth chart by younger players such as Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. Royal's best game of 2011 actually came in the Broncos' wild-card win over the Steelers, where he had three receptions for 49 yards, including a 30-yard touchdown.
Positives: With great quickness and the ability to make sharp cuts, Royal has shown he can be a dynamic slot receiver. Those same skills help him as a punt returner, where he has gained 11.9 yards per return throughout his career. In 2011, he brought back a punt 85 yards for a go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter of a win against the Raiders. Royal is well-liked within the Denver locker room and is considered a hard worker.
Negatives: For somebody who has stayed relatively healthy, the lack of production is quite shocking. Royal just never found a role in the offense ever since Cutler and head coach Mike Shanahan left after the '08 season. Though he posted some decent numbers under Shanahan's replacement, Josh McDaniels — 59 receptions for 627 yards and three touchdowns in 2010 — he has never come close to matching or exceeding his numbers as a rookie. Standing at just 5-foot-10, it is difficult for Royal to create plays with the ball in the air.
Risk factor: Moderate. Royal has had his ups and downs through his career, but he gives great effort, doesn't complain and is well-liked by teammates. According to a source, he understands the grass isn't always greener somewhere else and wouldn't mind staying in Denver. However, given the Broncos' other needs and his lack of progression in recent seasons, Royal might have to find another team. Going to a system he's familiar with (reuniting with Cutler in Chicago or Shanahan in Washington makes some sense) could be helpful in restarting the receiver's career.