Griff Whalen certainly isn’t the biggest. He’s definitely not the fastest receiver on the Colts’ roster either. But I’ll guarantee you this–the reason Whalen is still on the Colts right now after missing the entire 2012 season with a left foot injury is NOT because of his connection with Andrew Luck.
Despite the Colts’ strategy of going after the best of what the 2011 Stanford offense had to offer with their first couple of picks in the 2012 NFL Draft, I don’t think Griff Whalen is still around now because of a connection he has to the quarterback and tight end of one of the best up-and-coming young teams in the league.
Sure, having connections helps, and perhaps the biggest one in signing offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton didn’t come until this offseason, but Whalen can ball, and the former walk-on at Stanford is going to give the comeback a shot as he fights for the fourth or fifth WR job with the Colts at 2013 training camp.
In a 2011 article on BuckCardinal.com, then Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton described just how Whalen finds ways to get open despite his physical and athletic limitations compared to some of the other athletes we see in college football nowadays.
“A big part of what allows Griff to get open and create separation from defenders is really his understanding of coverages and coverage techniques,” Hamilton said. “Griff is truly a student of the game and spends countless hours studying his opponents. In recent weeks, it’s really given him an edge. And I don’t think it hurts him one bit that he lives with the quarterback. They have developed tremendous continuity and Andrew seems to trust that Griff is going to get to the spot and ultimately make the play.”
Whalen and Luck share similar work habits, and in college, they made each other better. Even though he didn’t have the most eye-popping statistics, Luck found Whalen 56 times in their final year at Stanford, connecting for f0ur touchdowns and racking up 749 yards.
This is a guy who has battled being underestimated his entire football career, from being a walk-on with the Stanford football team to signing with the Colts as an undrafted free agent, and now having to battle back from the injured reserve and win a roster spot in one of the most open WR competitions in the NFL right now. Here’s what Whalen had to say as a senior at Stanford on being overlooked.
“Yeah, I’m sure plenty of people underestimate me,” he said. “It might motivate me a little. It’s not like I need motivation, like I wouldn’t be playing hard without it. I wonder what a lot of teams are saying about me when they’re doing their scouting reports. I guess I have a chip on my shoulder.”
Before he went down with the season ending injury almost a year ago, Whalen led the Colts in the pre-season with 12 receptions for 125 yards, and capped off the pre-season with an eight catch performance against the Washington Redskins. Now, he’s working off of a very productive offseason in his first year back with coordinator Pep Hamilton, and people are starting to take notice.
At day one of training camp, one description I read of Whalen said he had “Spiderman-like hands” and showed an ability to go up and make plays in heavy traffic.
Whalen is a tough, no-bull kind of player who is very focused and completely has overcome his physical limitations with his ability to play the game from the neck up and run good routes. Not only that, but Whalen has proven he has pretty reliable hands, and he could see significant action this season as the Colts’ potential #4 receiver behind just Reggie Wayne, Darrius Heyward-Bey, and T.Y. Hilton.
At this point, you can’t help but root for Whalen. He wasn’t respected coming out of high school, wasn’t drafted coming out of college, and now he’s got a shot to have a pretty big role with the Colts. By the time the pre-season is over, I think this guy can lock in a roster spot and become a key part of the Colts’ WR rotation, walk-on or not.