To some fans of the Indianapolis Colts, the signing of Hakeem Nicks, the recovery of Reggie Wayne and Dwayne Allen and the growth of young receivers last season has taken care of the wide receiver position.
Nicks will join Wayne and T.Y. Hilton to make one of the league's most versatile receiving corps, with a mix of youth, experience, speed, hands and route-running skills. Then there's young receivers LaVon Brazill, Da'Rick Rogers and Griff Whalen. You'd be hard-pressed to find a group of young backup receivers on another roster with as much potential as that group. Now add the tight ends who complement each other perfectly, Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener, and you have quite the arsenal of weapons for Andrew Luck.
Why on earth would the Colts want to draft a wide receiver, especially using one of the Colts' few early picks?
The reason lies in the long term, the future that lies buried underneath the immediate.
Let's start by looking at the receivers on the roster for 2014.
First you have the big three. Reggie Wayne is a phenomenal receiving talent, and he belongs in the Hall of Fame someday, but he's also 35. There have been 13 receivers ever to start 16 games and have over 500 yards receiving in a season after they turned 35.
On the other hand, Wayne is the consummate professional, and if anybody can bounce back from an injury and pick up where he left off, it's him. Wayne's game over the last few years hasn't relied on elite quickness, speed or explosiveness, but on great route-running and elite hands. As long as Wayne's knee can handle making sharp cuts, he should be fine.
Then you have Hilton, who came on last season as not only a consistent deep threat, but a consistent producer. That production will likely go down with Wayne and Nicks taking targets, but Hilton should also have an easier time getting open next to those two.
I don't anticipate anything but improvement for Hilton this season. It's unlikely that he'll ever be an elite receiver due to his size, but with solid hands and one of the best double moves in the NFL, Hilton is offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton's greatest "field-stretcher."
Nicks is a bit more of a mixed bag. Once a threat to NFL defenses, Nicks was limited to mostly slant patterns and quick in-routes while playing for the New York Giants last season. He did some damage, but he finished with under 60 catches and under 900 yards for the second consecutive season.
Fortunately for Indianapolis, they could use Nicks' comfort in the intermediate zones. The team struggled to make those kinds of passes last season after Wayne went down, and having two veteran threats to exploit the middle of the field should open things up down the field for Hilton as well.
So those three should be Luck's main targets, but there are a few high-potential young receivers as well.
Fans have become enamored with Rogers and Brazill due to their big-play potential and raw physical talent. Rogers, for example, has a lot of work to do in his route-running and on-field awareness, but nobody else on the roster can go up and get a ball at his high point like Rogers did against Kansas City.
We want to see this talent develop, but it's important to realize that Wayne, Nicks and Hilton are the primary targets, and for good reason. Rogers and Brazill should not, in any fashion, be playing ahead of those receivers unless one of them gets hurt.
So yes, in 2014, a rookie wide receiver probably isn't going to get much playing time unless a major injury occurs. Of course, you can never rule that out.
But as loaded as the cabinet is for 2014, it's just as bare in 2015.
Hilton and Brazill are the only two receivers on the roster for 2015, and there's no guarantee that any of the other receivers will be around.
|Career Totals for Colts Receivers|
For all of Reggie Wayne's greatness, he's 35. He's turning 36 in November. If he's slowed at all after injury, there is no reason to sign him to another major contract. It's a sad fact of NFL business, but it is how the business works.
If Hakeem Nicks bounces back with the Colts and has a good year, he could be re-signed, but he also could cash in elsewhere. In fact, that seems more likely. The Colts aren't going to have oodles of cap space to sign Nicks to a loaded contract if he does have a good year. If his year is more subdued, then the Colts could bring him back, but he also won't be as much of a threat.
The situation is similar with Rogers. If he breaks out this year and somehow proves that he can be a starter in this league, that's great, but the Colts likely won't be able to pay him to keep him around. If he doesn't prove that, then the Colts' questions at wide receiver for 2015 and beyond are still just that: questions.
Despite all of the receiving corps' promise for 2014, the fact remains that only one receiver with starting ability is even on the roster for 2015 and beyond. The team has a legitimate long-term hole at the position, and the 2014 draft is one of the best in recent memory for receivers. Starters should be available deep into the third round, so despite not having a first-round pick, the Colts could still get a future No. 1 receiver.
Sure, safety and center are a bit more immediate needs, but the Colts aren't going to fall apart if they don't draft a starter at either of those positions. They do have contingency plans at both should they fail to find a starter early, with Khaled Holmes and Phil Costa competing at center and Delano Howell having some starting experience at safety.
A long-term receiver is just as much of a need as those other positions. It's easy to look at 2014 and think otherwise, but broadening the picture paints a bleaker look that shouldn't be overlooked.