The Colts’ wide receiver group is led by veteran Reggie Wayne, who put a vote of confidence in the organization last offseason when he decided to re-sign despite the release of Colts legend Peyton Manning and all of the changes on the coaching staff.
It turned out that Wayne made a good decision, and he was the primary target for new QB Andrew Luck and the Colts’ passing attack. The rest of the Colts’ WR group was somewhat of a mixed bag. Donnie Avery came in and had a nice season for the team, but he has since departed for the Kansas City Chiefs. Rookies T.Y. Hilton and LaVon Brazill showed some promise, and Hilton could be a big time breakout candidate in 2013.
The Colts also added former Oakland Raiders first round pick Darrius Heyward-Bey, a player who can really make things happen after the catch but has struggled in his career of doing just that–making the catch.
This is a very interesting position group for the Colts, one that is going to see significant improvement in 2013 if you’re asking me. I love the addition of DHB to the team and I think that was a really underrated move for Pep Hamilton’s offense. I also am very high on T.Y. Hilton as an offensive weapon for the Colts. What remains to be seen at this point is which player or players will step up and provide the Colts with some nice depth at the position. It might not matter as much with how the Colts will utilize two-TE sets, but still, behind those top three WRs, the players the Colts have provide intrigue as well as some big question marks. Here is a look at the Colts’ WR position going into 2013 training camp.
Reggie Wayne, 34
Reggie Wayne is the Colts’ leader offensively per the man throwing him passes, and even at his age, he is still an upper-tier NFL receiver. Wayne is the veteran of this team, and even though everyone is going through a lot of change, #87 is always a reliable target for whoever is throwing passes.
With Luck throwing him passes last year, Wayne caught 106 balls for 1,355 yards and five touchdowns, but he left a lot on the field according to some research done by Pro Football Focus.
According to their research, Wayne should have had closer to 11 touchdown grabs last season than five based on his number of catches and his distance away from the end zone on each catch. The Colts as a whole should have scored a lot more last season, ranking 18th in the league in scoring, but it’s hard to blame Wayne solely for that figure.
In 2013, Wayne is going to be counted on again as a leader and veteran of the team to be the primary target in the passing game. Andrew Luck targeted him a lot in 2012, and I see no reason why Wayne won’t lead the team in targets, catches, and yards again this year unless someone really has a big breakout season.
Darrius Heyward-Bey, 26
Heyward-Bey was signed this offseason after a disappointing start to his career with the Raiders. Disappointing because of his own shortcomings as well as the pure dysfuncitonal state of the Raiders franchise as a whole.
While he was in Oakland, the Raiders were constantly changing coaches, schemes, quarterbacks–you name it. There has been no consistency with that team over the last decade, and Heyward-Bey was unfairly over-drafted, probably a round too early, but there’s certainly some talent there.
Heyward-Bey certainly has the speed to burn defenders deep, but that’s not where he excelled in Oakland. Despite some trouble with drops, where DHB is most effective is after the catch. This is great news for Colts fans because Pep Hamilton’s offensive system is going to really focus on the quick pass. The more the Colts can get DHB the ball in space, the more explosive he can be. According to Dan Pompei of the National Football Post, the Colts are going to be trying to get him more opportunities than he ever had in Oakland.
Considering his career high is 64 catches, you can safely assume that this is a player who will be pretty involved in the offense.
T.Y. Hilton, 23
Hilton has a chance to be a major breakout player for the Colts. Not only is he effective as a number three receiver, but if Hilton can absorb some of the targets left by Donnie Avery, he can put up huge numbers.
Some out there think he’s just a one-trick pony as a deep threat, but I think Hilton has a chance to be really special as an offensive weapon. He can be used outside or in the slot, and I think he could be a double-digit touchdown guy.
Hilton is still pretty raw and had 12 dropped passes last season, but certainly he is a player I’m keeping my eye on. He was a home run third round pick last year if you ask me, and I can’t wait to see how he develops.
LaVon Brazill, 24
Brazill is facing a four-game suspension for testing positive for marijuana, and they don’t just hand out four game suspensions. Obviously Brazill has failed multiple tests while in the league, so the Colts have to be on their final straw with him.
If not for the lack of overall depth at the WR position, Brazill’s roster spot might be in jeopardy. Heck, it might be anyway. He caught just 11 passes as a rookie, but I think he has some upside. He was really good at Ohio in college, and I thought he was a sleeper to wind up as an impact player.
He’s going to need to get his head on straight if he is to do anything in the NFL.
Nathan Palmer, 24
Palmer was a teammate of 2012 Mr. Irrelevant Chandler Harnish, the quarterback at Northern Illinois, and the Colts plucked him away from the San Francisco 49ers practice squad last year.
After spending some time with the Niners, the 5’11″ receiver was signed by the Colts where he saw action on special teams and some snaps at WR backing up Donnie Avery and LaVon Brazill.
With Brazill’s suspension and the lack of overall depth at the WR position, Palmer has a chance to prove what he’s got. He has explosive speed, running a 4.34 at his pro day.
Griff Whalen, 23
Whalen has familiarity with Andrew Luck dating back to their days at Stanford, and he will feel right at home in Pep Hamilton’s offense. After going undrated in 2012, Whalen signed with the Colts and landed on injured reserve after the team’s final pre-season game against the Washington Redskins.
Whalen is an exceptional route runner who faces an uphill battle to make the roster, but his history with Luck and Hamilton definitely works in his favor if he can stay healthy.
Jabin Sambrano, 23
Sambrano turned some heads in Colts camp last Summer, and remains an option for the future going forward. he is a lighter receiver with good speed and quickness, and he is an intriguing name to watch going forward.
The Colts actually waived Sambrano in September, and he was signed to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers‘ practice squad before returning to the Colts on a reserve/future contract in December. Another interesting player here.
Jeremy Kelley, 25
The Colts’ pattern of dipping into other professional leagues has stretched to the WR position this year as they brought in Jeremy Kelley, a former Arena League receiver who stands 6’6″ and 225 pounds.
Kelley is a huge receiver with really good athletic ability who is raw, but offers upside on special teams. He is a longshot to make the final roster, but you’ve got to love the direction Grigson is going here.
Any and all talent will do, no matter where you have played. The Colts basically have an additional CFL/IFL/AFL draft every offseason where they pick some of the top talent out of those leagues and kick some tires. Certainly not a bad strategy, even if you only hit one out of 20 or so.
Lanear Sampson, 22
Sampson was the #3 receiver at Baylor last season behind Terrance Williams and Tevin Reese. This is actually a pretty underrated prospect who was kind of buried underneath some really good receivers at Baylor.
Sampson is a shorter but thick receiver with great speed, running a 4.38 at his pro day. He has excellent quickness and hands, and really the only knock on him coming out of college was his route running.
I think he could be a practice squad candidate that could really surprise.
Rodrick Rumble, 22
Undrafted prospect who finished his career at Idaho State as one of the most productive receivers in Big Sky history. Unlike some of the other receivers on the Colts’ roster as UDFAs, Rumble had great college production and weak numbers at his pro day.
If he is going to make the roster or maybe the practice squad, Rumble is going to have to find ways to beat his athletic deficiencies and get open, catching everything thrown his way.