It isn't this guy
The 2012 Indianapolis Colts are a team of unknowns—new players, coaches and concepts all have yielded some surprises so far this year. With all of the new faces and guys playing at new positions, it would be remarkable if there weren't any surprises.
That's not true. There are more than a few players who have exceeded expectations. It's my job this week to rank those surprise performances.
Doubting Reggie Wayne would be a mistake, yet some did before this season began.
Some openly questioned Wayne's mental health when he chose to return to a team that clearly was rebuilding. Others suggested that Wayne had lost a step and would ruin the remainder of his career toiling away with a team that wouldn't help his legacy.
Is it really a surprise that Wayne leads the team in receptions and has become Andrew Luck's favorite target? Not really, but would it surprise you to learn that he's on track for more than 1,500 yards and 120 catches after three games? If he continues this streak, it would be the best season of his career.
It's incredibly unlikely that defenses will continue to allow Wayne to gobble up yards, but it's clear that he's capable of having a career year even with the sweeping changes to the roster.
When the Colts lost Pat Angerer for the year to injury, Kavell Conner was asked to fill some big expectations. Angerer was expected to be a big component of the new 3-4 hybrid defense, but Conner has picked up the load admirably.
Through three games, Conner has 14 tackles and a sack. The man he replaced averaged less than half a tackle more than Conner, although it was in a different defense. The lack of a significant productivity drop should be incredibly encouraging to the coaching staff, as it's clear the depth at inside linebacker is pretty good.
Kavell Conner has made a strong case for more playing time even after Angerer returns.
The offensive line is horrible.
The exception to that has been Anthony Castonzo. He was drafted to be a franchise left tackle, and in his second year, he's looked like he can be just that. He handled Julius Peppers extremely well, has proven to be the only guy they can run behind and has become the cornerstone around which Ryan Grigson must build the rest of the offensive line.
The real surprise is the run game. Behind Castonzo and the left side of the line, the Colts have rushed for eight first downs and only three times have they given up negative yardage. The right side of the line has only managed three first downs, but have five rushes for negative yards.
Castonzo anchors the offensive line and provides the only spark in the run game. It's critical the coaching staff finds more help. Until they do, they need to run behind Castonzo and pray he stays healthy throughout the season.
Adam Vinatieri may be a legend, but Pat McAfee is a weapon.
Last year, the buoyant McAfee led the team in special teams tackles at various points in the season. That's not a good feat for a punter.
This year, he's refined his game a bit and has reached the upper echelon of NFL punters. He's averaging more than 50 yards per punt. He's only had two touchbacks on 16 punts. The "boomstick," as he calls his leg, produced a 64-yard punt as his longest this year.
The critical point here is that the Colts aren't going to win many games this year unless they can gain an edge in special teams. Winning the field position battle will prove key, and McAfee is central to that plan.
Donnie Avery has lead a spotty career marred by injuries. This year, he's having a spotty season with one breakout game against the Vikings but essentially fading from view for the other two. It's incredibly frustrating to watch at times, as Avery is clearly a speedy and, at times, devastating weapon.
Still, it's a surprise to me that he even made the roster given his injury-ridden preseason and the emergence of T.Y. Hilton and LaVon Brazill.
While I'm not convinced Avery is going to have a tremendous season, the fact that he's contributed as much as he has thus far must be viewed as an encouragement. If he remains healthy and has a few big games, he'll prove to be a wise investment.
Looks better in Speed Blue
When the Colts brought Cassius Vaughn to town, it was expected to improve secondary depth. It's done that, although not to the degree the team needs.
That's not stopped Vaughn from becoming a serious contributor to special teams. As a kick returner, he's averaging 27.3 yards per kick return with one return of 40 yards.
The last time a Colts player averaged more than 25 yards per return was 2006, when T.J. Rushing averaged just over 33 yards per return on just two returns.
Having a respectable kick returner is a luxury the team simply didn't have during the Manning era.
The Colts drafted Stanford tight end Coby Fleener in large part due to his instant chemistry with Andrew Luck. They proceeded to march through the preseason like two people who had never met. Plagued by drops, Fleener had not been impressive until the season began.
Through three games, Fleener has eight receptions for 98 yards, good enough for third on the team. He's been a great release valve for Luck despite registering three drops, the sixth-highest in the league. When Luck gets outside the pocket, both Reggie Wayne and Fleener have developed particular ability to find seams.
Fleener will only improve, but for the moment, he's delivering on the lofty expectations.
Robert Mathis is an excellent pass-rusher, but would that translate to success in this new 3-4 defensive scheme? Could he excel without his hand in the dirt?
It shouldn't be a surprise that Mathis has excelled in this defense, but I doubt you'd find anyone who would suggest he could do it without Dwight Freeney opposite him.
Instead, Mathis has blossomed in the scheme and amassed four sacks and 15 tackles through three games. He's on pace for 21 sacks! While that's unlikely, it's clear that he could reach 100 career sacks this season. He currently has 87.5 sacks and would need a career year to get there, but it's within the realm of possibility at this point.