He is still some distance away from giving his speech in Canton, Ohio, but Wayne's 1,006 receptions for 13,566 yards and 80 touchdowns over his 13-year career put him on track to land there someday. That likely lies in his future, but for now Wayne needs to prove himself again.
The 35-year-old tore his ACL against the Denver Broncos last year, just seven games into the regular season.
To that point, he had compiled 38 receptions for 503 yards and two touchdowns. Despite his age, Wayne still appeared to be Andrew Luck's best receiving option. Ever since Luck replaced Peyton Manning as the face of the franchise in Indianapolis, Wayne had rebounded from a difficult 2011 season without either quarterback.
In 2012, during Luck's rookie season, Wayne had 1,355 yards and five touchdowns on 106 receptions in the regular season. Those numbers ranked him sixth in receptions, seventh in receiving yards and 40th in receiving touchdowns.
If you project Wayne's stats before he got injured in 2013 over a 16-game season, he would have finished with 87 receptions (11th in the NFL), 1,150 yards (17th in the NFL) and five touchdowns (38th in the NFL).
Even before Wayne's knee injury, his production suggested that he was declining with age. Part of that change of production could be a result of the team's new scheme and the development of T.Y. Hilton, but those are two aspects of the Colts offense that will continue to affect Wayne.
With the addition of Hakeem Nicks—someone who should be a dramatic upgrade over the departed Darrius Heyward-Bey—and the return of Dwayne Allen, a third-year tight end who missed most of his second season through injury, Wayne's production figures to drop again this year regardless of how he returns from injury.
Therefore, the real question with Wayne isn't how much he produces, but how well he performs on the targets he does receive.
At his age, it's going to be very difficult for Wayne to return from a serious knee injury without being aversely affected. Even if he was fully healthy at this stage of his career, his physical decline would be impacting his performance on the field. Only five times has a receiver his age topped 1,000 yards in NFL history, and three of those five came from Jerry Rice.
Even though we don't know what Wayne will be next year, we can safely presume that he won't be better than he was last year. With that in mind, it's worth looking more closely at what he did when healthy last year.
The first thing to note is who Wayne produced against.
|San Francisco 49ers||4||58||0|
|San Diego Chargers||5||88||0|
Wayne's two biggest games of the season came against the Oakland Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars. He had both of his touchdowns in those games, 34 percent of his receptions and 39 percent of his receiving yards. Neither the Jaguars nor the Raiders had impressive secondaries last season, and the numbers back that up.
|Opponent||Receptions||Yards||Defense Pass Yards Allowed||Pass DVOA|
|Oakland Raiders||8||96||256 per game (285th)||29th|
|Miami Dolphins||5||46||235 per game (16th)||12th|
|San Francisco 49ers||4||58||221 per game (7th)||10th|
|Jacksonville Jaguars||5||100||248 per game (25th)||26th|
|Seattle Seahawks||6||65||172 per game (1st)||1st|
|San Diego Chargers||5||88||259 per game (29th)||31st|
|Denver Broncos||5||50||254 per game (27th)||21st|
Passing Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) is an efficiency model that ranks how defenses performed in relation to the first down marker. As the chart shows, Wayne didn't face many of the better pass defenses in the NFL.
He did face the best pass defense in the NFL, that of the Seattle Seahawks, and he produced relatively well. In spite of his six receptions for 65 yards that day, it's hard to assert he impressed. Like many other receivers were throughout the season, Wayne was intimidated by the Legion of Boom.
In the first quarter, Wayne had two drops that any possession receiver would be frustrated by.
On third down, Luck delivered a perfect pass to Wayne, who passed the linebacker working underneath. Wayne extended his hands to catch the ball away from his body but allowed the ball to go through his palms, as the presence of the linebacker underneath and defensive back coming from behind appeared to affect him.
Wayne's second drop, one that came earlier in the first quarter, was much more significant than the one detailed above.
On this play, Wayne is lined up in the slot. Importantly, before watching Wayne, we can see that Luck is expecting to throw the ball to Wayne on a slant route or down the seam because he initially looks at Earl Thomas over the middle of the field before turning to face Wayne.
Because Wayne is jammed at the line of scrimmage by Brandon Browner, the whole play is disrupted. Wayne doesn't use his quickness to get away from Browner, he simply leans into his chest, allowing the bigger defensive back to control him and disrupt the route.
After failing to break open, Wayne eventually slides past Browner down the seam. At this point, Luck has been forced to step up into the pocket. He is under pressure from multiple Seahawks defenders when he makes a phenomenal throw across his body to find Wayne.
Wayne should catch this ball, but the impending contact from Thomas causes him to not fully commit to catching the ball.
After dropping two passes in the first quarter, Wayne made two 19-yard receptions in the fourth quarter. The first play highlighted how much it benefits wide receivers to play with Luck. The Colts ran a pick play to free Wayne down the sideline from the slot here, but he was unable to create much separation.
Walter Thurmond had the speed to recover his initial loss of space, but a perfectly placed pass from Luck made up for any lack of separation on the route from Wayne.
This is something that Luck is able to consistently do with his receivers. He threw Wayne open at least three times last season. For an aging possession receiver, the ability to negate good coverage with placement and timing from the quarterback is vitally important.
On the other 19-yard play, Wayne again didn't create his separation, but this time the play didn't feature a perfect pass from Luck. The Colts ran a fake screen to free both Wayne and Heyward-Bey down the sideline. Luck's pass was affected by pressure in the pocket, so the ball drifted in between both receivers.
Wayne didn't wait to figure out who the ball was intended for, he adjusted to it in the air and extended his hands away from his body to reel the ball in.
Although he had a few too many drops in 2013, Wayne's ability to track the flight of the ball to adjust to it and make difficult receptions is very impressive. He understands how to avoid taking big hits over the middle of the field by either fading away from the pass or attacking it early to angle away from an impending hit.
On 51 catchable targets last year, Wayne had nine drops.
|Catchable Targets||Receptions||Open Drops||Contested Drops||Contested Catches|
Analytical Analysis Through NFL.com
While Wayne's four open drops were too many, it's the contested drops that come into focus as he gets older and comes off a serious knee injury. It's very unlikely that he will be able to run his routes at the same speed and with the same precision after such a serious knee injury at his age.
Unlike Anquan Boldin of the San Francisco 49ers, Wayne doesn't have the physical prowess to consistently dominate at the catch point.
Because of his limited strength, Wayne needs to beat the odds and return to the field with the same quickness and subtlety that made him such an effective receiver in previous years. Because of the arrival of Nicks and drafting of Donte Moncrief, Wayne should expect to spend a huge amount of his time in the slot next year.
Of Wayne's 51 catchable targets last season, 35 came when he was lined up in the slot.
He caught 30 of those passes for 347 yards, and his three touchdowns (one negated by penalty) also came from the slot. Fourteen of Wayne's 30 receptions in the slot came against zone coverage. Those receptions went for 184 yards.
Wayne's ability to come free against zone coverage is where his value is most likely to emanate from in 2014.
Twenty of Wayne's 42 receptions (a total that includes plays negated by penalty) came against zone coverage and went for 279 yards—53 percent of his yards on the season. Wayne had eight receptions of 20-plus yards in 2013, six of which came against zone coverage.
Coming free against zone coverage is more about a receiver's intelligence and his ability to deceive defensive backs with his timing and subtlety. For that reason, Wayne shouldn't lose this ability as he gets older and his physical ability declines.
If he can continue to be effective against zone coverage and consistently catch the football, he should still be a very valuable member of the Colts offense.
With that said, he is very unlikely to ever return to the player he once was. Wayne will be a Hall of Famer because of what he did in previous seasons, not what he does in 2014. Fortunately for him, the Colts are set up to succeed with the talent around him on offense.