A few years ago, the Indianapolis Colts held the 27th overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. They selected running back Donald Brown out of Connecticut, but then-general manager Bill Polian seriously considered taking wide receiver Hakeem Nicks out of North Carolina. Instead, Nicks was drafted by the New York Giants two picks later. Brad Wells wrote about what might have happened if the Colts had drafted Nicks:
"It's interesting to speculate what might have happened if Polian had ended up drafting the player he truly coveted in 2009. With Nicks, might the Colts have defeated the Saints in Super Bowl XLIV? If so, Bill Polian and his son, then-general manager Chris Polian, might still be in charge of Indianapolis' front office. Peyton Manning might still be the Colts' quarterback, and Andrew Luck is likely taking snaps under center for the St. Louis Rams or the Washington team with that incredibly racist name."
While there was much more to the decision to fire Polian and release Manning than Brad mentions there, the point is indeed interesting to consider, especially the part about the Super Bowl. All of that is in the past, however, but this offseason Hakeem Nicks became an Indianapolis Colt, signing a one year deal to play for the franchise now run by Ryan Grigson and quarterbacked by Andrew Luck.
As previously mentioned, Nicks was drafted in the first round of the 2009 draft by the New York Giants, going 29th overall. He played the first five seasons of his career with the Giants, catching 311 passes for 4,622 yards and 27 touchdowns in 70 career games (starting 59). In both the 2010 and 2011 seasons Nicks amassed more than 1,000 yards receiving and established himself as a top-ten wide receiver in the NFL. He won a Super Bowl in Indianapolis with the Giants in 2011, beating the New England Patriots in Lucas Oil Stadium. The past two seasons, however, Nicks has dropped off and caught only 3 touchdowns combined in the 2012 and 2013 seasons - including zero last year. He suffered from injuries and that contributed to his drop off in numbers, but there are legitimate questions about whether Nicks can return to the number one wide receiver that he used to be.
Nicks sent a letter to all 32 teams prior to the start of free agency with statements from Dr. James Andrews and Dr. Robert Anderson affirming that Nicks is indeed healthy despite leg injuries that appeared to limit him in the past two seasons. If he is indeed healthy, then there is no reason to think that he won't be able to be a very big contributor to the Colts next season. At the same time, however, as ESPN's Giants beat writer Dan Graziano asked, if Nicks was healthy in a contract year last season, then what was the issue with his poor production?
"The problem is, Nicks just had a lousy contract year, and signing a one-year deal would put him in the same position he occupied in 2013. And who'd want that player again? That's a player that gets offensive coordinators fired."
All legitimate questions, and there are plenty more about Hakeem Nicks. The main one that everyone wants answered is this: what happened to the Hakeem Nicks of 2010-2011? Injuries? Lack of effort? Something else? And an even more important question than that: can Hakeem Nicks regain his form from 2010-2011? If so, then he will be a tremendous pickup for the Colts. If not, he won't be re-signed after this year and the Colts won't lose much other than a 1-year, $3.975 million deal for Nicks. It's a low risk, high reward move for the Colts, and it's very hard to have a negative opinion about this move.
Nicks is a player who used to be a terrific route runner. His leg injuries seemed to take a bit of a toll on the sharpness of his cuts but is still very good in the area overall. He doesn't have the speed that he used to and isn't an elite downfield threat, but with the Colts he doesn't have to be and they can utilize his strengths in the underneath quick passing game, where he is dangerous. And, unlike the past two one-year receiver deals the Colts have given (to Donnie Avery and Darrius Heyward-Bey), Nicks is usually sure-handed. He did drop quite a few last year but overall he has strong hands and that shouldn't be a huge hinderance to him in Indianapolis, like it was to DHB especially.
It's really odd to be talking about a 26-year old and whether he can regain his old form or not, but that's where we are with Hakeem Nicks. He was willing to take a one year deal, especially to play with Andrew Luck. Before free agency even started Nicks said that, "I know if I went to a place like Indianapolis I would be dangerous with a quarterback like Andrew Luck." He's on a one year tryout, and if he does well he will certainly be paid next offseason. But for now, we're talking about how he can contribute to the Colts this season.
Reggie Wayne is coming off of a torn ACL, but he is ahead of schedule and is planning on being ready for training camp. While there are questions about how effective he might be next year, he will be the Colts number one wide receiver and will see significant playing time. T.Y. Hilton emerged as a star last season in Wayne's absence and looks to continue to improve in his third season. There is absolutely no excuse for Hilton not being on the field a lot in 2014. In addition, Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen are two dangerous threats at tight end. How will Nicks fit into the Colts offense in 2014 that, on paper, looks pretty good? I don't think there's much worry that Nicks will get his chances, and plenty of them. But at the same time, if he can't regain his previous form then there is not a pressing need to play him. Entering the season, however, he will be a major part of the Colts offense and I honestly don't expect that to change much throughout the season.
There are questions surrounding Hakeem Nicks, but whether it was a good move for the Colts to sign him is not one of them. It is a low risk, high reward move for the Colts that could pay off in a big way. Remember, just a few years ago Nicks was among the best receivers in football. If he can reach that level again, he should help the Colts reach new heights and could really help them in their pursuit of a Lombardi Trophy.
Reggie Wayne said of the Colts signing Nicks, according to Colts.com's Kevin Bowen:
"We talked on the phone and he was hyped," Wayne said of Nicks. "The first thing he said was ‘I can't wait to get to the Super Bowl.' That's what you want to hear."
"I really think this pickup can be special. He's a big target. He has great catching skills. He can really keep the chains moving and make big plays down the field. I really don't think there's one guy that can cover him one-on-one to be honest with you."
The first thing Nicks said to Reggie Wayne was that he wanted to get to the Super Bowl. That's the goal for the Colts this year, and if Nicks can help in some way to reach the Super Bowl, then the signing will be absolutely worth it.
Quick Summary: Hakeem Nicks:
Weight: 208 pounds
Age: 26 years old
Years Pro: 5 seasons in the NFL, all with the New York Giants
College: North Carolina
Drafted: First round (29th overall) by the Giants in 2009 NFL Draft
Statistical Resume: 59 games started (70 games played), 311 catches, 4,622 yards, 27 touchdown, 14.9 yards per catch
Contract: 1-year, $3.975 million ($2.25 million guaranteed); $3.975 million cap hit in 2014 (via spotrac)
Pros: has shown elite talent in past; reliable underneath receiver; solid route runner; contract very favorable for Colts; another dangerous weapon for Andrew Luck
Cons: injuries; drop off in play in past two years; isn't a huge deep threat