How Deep Are the Colts at Wide Receiver?
It’s no secret that Andrew Luck is pretty good at football. He’s been successful in two different styles of offense in his two seasons in the NFL, and projects to be our fifth-best fantasy football quarterback this season. While the offensive line has caused Luck to run for his life more often than anyone in Indianapolis would like, Luck should have plenty of receiving options since the Colts might enter the season with the deepest set of pass-catchers in the league.
Most of the focus is on the two players atop the depth chart - and rightly so - with Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton. Wayne has been a top receiver in the league since his first 1,000-yard season in 2004, the first of seven consecutive such seasons. In Wayne’s absence last year, after a Week 7 knee injury, Hilton had a stellar campaign with 82 receptions for 1,083 yards.
Still, there are some concerns surrounding the top two pass-catchers. Wayne is 35 years old and coming off a major knee injury that caused him to miss the second half of last season. A lot of Hilton’s jump in raw statistics came due to an increase in targets after Wayne was lost. Hilton was the 14th-most targeted wide receiver last season, though that led to finishing just 20th in our Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) metric.
Wayne and Hilton will enter the season as the top two receivers, but the Colts have a corps of wideouts who could contribute during the season.
Which Hakeem Nicks is going to be playing for the Colts this season? Will it be the Nicks that coaches called out for showing up to camp out of shape? Or will we see the Nicks who played like he had something to prove against his former team in a preseason game?
Nicks’ 2013 season was incredible for all the wrong reasons. He tied a career high in games played, participating in 15 contests for just the second time in his five-year career. He had 56 receptions for 896 yards with zero touchdowns. Louis Murphy had three receptions for the Giants last season and even he scored on one of them. The touchdown-less season led to a Reception NEP of just 60.33, 46th among wide receivers. Only Emmanuel Sanders had a lower Reception NEP with more receptions than Nicks.
The touchdown drought shouldn’t be something that continues, at least to that extreme, this year. In his first four seasons, Nicks averaged a touchdown for every 9.4 receptions. When the Colts come out in 11 personnel, Nicks will likely handle the outside opposite Wayne as Hilton can do his best work from the slot.
The issue with Nicks can be his health. He doesn’t always miss games, but he doesn’t always play at 100 percent health, either. The Giants didn’t have the luxury of letting him sit out a game to rest, but Indianapolis could, which would allow the other receivers to get some playing time.
The Other Guys
Even in an article about the other guys, there’s still a subsection about the other guys. Nicks is the favorite to put up any type of fantasy relevant numbers outside of Wayne and Hilton, but receivers 4 through 6 on the roster all have the ability to make some kind of impact.
The other guys start with 2014 third-round pick Donte Moncrief, who looks to be the favorite for the number four receiver role at this point. With Wayne and Hilton sitting out the preseason game against the Giants, Moncrief got the start alongside Nicks. Moncrief has the physical tools most talent evaluators would look for in a receiver. He’s listed at 6’3” and 226 pounds, ran a 4.4 40-yard dash at the combine, and tied the highest vertical for all wide receivers in the 2014 draft at 39.5”.
While Moncrief is physically what many would want from a receiver, the majority of routes he had to run at Mississippi were not the most advanced. That won’t be too much of an issue as he gets acclimated in Pep Hamilton’s system, but it will take some adjustments before his full potential as an NFL receiver is unleashed.
Indianapolis could easily keep six receivers on the roster, but if the Colts only decide to keep five, they will be left to choose between Griff Whalen and Da’Rick Rogers. Neither played an extensive role last season - Whalen was targeted 40 times, Rogers was targeted just 23 - but both were efficient when given an opportunity. Both scored two touchdowns in limited action (a combined four more than Hakeem Nicks) and had decent Reception NEP per target numbers.
The two receivers have very different styles of play. Whalen can be a very consistent and reliable slot receiver. This was shown in Week 16 against the Kansas City Chiefs when Whalen caught seven of his eight targets for 80 yards, all season highs. He also added five receptions for 67 yards against the New England Patriots in the Divisional Round in the playoffs. Rogers is more of a big-play threat, evidenced by his 69-yard long reception last season.
It wouldn’t be stretch to say Indianapolis’ sixth best receiver is what many teams would be hope for out of at least their number four. This is even without mentioning the impacts of Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener and Ahmad Bradshaw in the passing game. The Colts even want to involve Trent Richardson more in the passing game, hoping to extract any kind of value from him at this point. With this amount of talent, the Colts won’t be able to get the ball to everyone, but will have limited problems if those other receivers are forced onto the field.