In his 13-year NFL career, Peyton Manning has emerged as arguably the greatest quarterback to ever play. While he has been an immeasurable part of the Colts’ recent success, he has not done this entirely on his own, as he has been complemented by a number of quality receiving options.
Here are the Top 10 targets Manning has played with, a list that includes wide receivers, tight ends and a running back.
Drafted in the same year as Manning, Pathon spent four total years in Indianapolis but only played a full season in two of them. In these two healthy seasons, 1998 and 2000, Pathon was a solid option for the young quarterback, catching 50 passes both seasons for 511 and 646 yards respectively. During those years, he had the second most receptions among the team’s wide receivers, trailing Marvin Harrison on both occasions.
The Division III Mount Union product burst onto the scene in 2009, after a week one injury to Anthony Gonzalez. Given this opportunity, Garçon did not look back, as he has caught 114 passes for 1549 yards the past two seasons, establishing himself as a starting receiver for the club. During the 2009 AFC Championship against the Jets, Garçon finished with 11 catches and 151 receiving yards, the third most receiving yards in franchise postseason history.
While Garçon has struggled at times with dropped passes, he remains a legitimate deep threat and an important part of the Colts passing game.
The Colts all-time leading rusher was also a reliable receiving option out of the backfield, surpassing 50 receptions in all but two seasons spent in Indianapolis (2005 and his injury-shortened 2001).
In his first two seasons, he posted 594 and 586 yards receiving, good for second and third on the team respectively. He also caught nine touchdowns during this time.
For his seven-year Colts career, James averaged over 50 receptions and 405 receiving yards per season, offering versatility that was an integral part of the Colts offense.
The first of three tight ends on this list, Dilger was a consistent target for Manning, who spent a total of seven seasons in Indianapolis beginning in 1995.
In four seasons together with the quarterback, Dilger amassed over 1660 yards receiving and earned a Pro Bowl selection in 2001. For much of his career, Dilger also paired with Marcus Pollard to form a productive tight end tandem.
Collie was a fourth-round draft pick in 2009 and almost immediately emerged as a key component of the Colts passing game.
A prototypical slot receiver, he caught 60 passes and seven touchdowns in his rookie season. Collie’s quick acclamation to the pro game and apparent chemistry with Manning enabled the Colts offense to maintain its form after an injury to Anthony Gonzalez, helping Manning win the league’s MVP award in 2009.
Collie picked up the following season where he left off, and was on pace for an 100 catch, 1,000 yard 2010 before concussion problems derailed his season.
Last season offered evidence of Collie’s value to Manning and the Colts, beyond the fact that the team finished 5-5 after his first concussion in Philadelphia. After returning from injury for a must-win December game against Jacksonville, Collie had eight catches, 87 yards, and two touchdowns in the first half, and the Colts gained 252 yards of total offense during this time. However, after Collie left the game late in the second quarter due to another concussion, the Colts offense amassed only 124 yards the rest of the game.
Though Stokley had a short career with the Colts, when he was healthy, he was one of Manning’s favorite targets.
After spending much of his first year in Indianapolis sidelined by injuries, Stokley emerged at the end of 2003, and torched Denver with 144 yards and two touchdowns in the first round of that year’s postseason.
The “Slot Machine,” as he came to be known, carried this momentum into 2004, during which he caught 68 passes for 1077 yards and 10 scores, one of which was Manning’s record-breaking 49th touchdown pass.
While injuries eventually forced Stokley out of Indianapolis, the rapport between himself and Manning was evident, and when injury-free, he was clearly one of the better Colts receivers of the past decade.
The former Colts tight end, who interestingly did not play college football, played with Manning from 1998 until 2004, catching 34 touchdowns and gaining nearly 3,200 receiving yards in this time.
During his Colts career, Pollard was a solid, dependable target, who fit the team's offense well. While in Indianapolis, he was a part of two quality tight end tandems, the first of which paired him with Ken Dilger from 1995 to 2001, and the second of which saw him team up with a young Dallas Clark in Pollard’s final two years with the Colts.
On four separate occasions during the Manning era, Pollard and another tight end combined to finish with more than 850 receiving yards in a season, including 2001, in which he and Dilger eclipsed the 1,000 yards mark.
Since being drafted by the Colts in 2003, Clark has emerged as one of the best tight ends in the NFL.
Bringing uncommon athleticism and versatility to the table, Clark has had a number of prolific seasons, including a superb 2009, in which he caught 100 passes for over 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns, en route to being named first-team All-Pro.
Over the past four years, Clark has averaged 68 catches, 729 yards, and over seven touchdowns per season, and these figures would be even higher if you factor out last season, in which he missed the final ten games due to injury.
Reggie Wayne has been one of the most consistent receivers in football over the past decade, doing so without the antics that are common among the position’s elite.
For starters, Wayne has only missed three games in his 10 year pro career, with all three coming in his rookie season. He has eclipsed 80 receptions in each of the past six seasons, and 1,000 yards in each of the past seven.
As the great Marvin Harrison’s career was coming to an end, Wayne seamlessly filled his large shoes as Manning’s number one target. In terms of yardage, Manning to Wayne is the second most successful quarterback to receiver combination in NFL history, trailing only the Manning to Harrison connection. Together, Manning and Wayne have connected for over 10,000 yards, and aside from Manning and Harrison, no other duo has reached this mark.
The obvious choice for the top spot on this list, Harrison has had a career paralleled by few other receivers.
The eight-time Pro Bowler finished his career with 14,580 yards receiving and 128 touchdown catches, and his 1,102 receptions are second only to Jerry Rice for most all-time.
In his eleven seasons together with Manning, Harrison caught ten or more touchdowns on eight occasions, and twice led the league in both yards and receptions. His 143 catches in 2002 remains a single-season NFL record.
Manning and Harrison also own every major quarterback to receiver record, including most yards, completions, and touchdowns.