There are some players whose impact just cannot adequately be stated. One of them is Reggie Wayne.
The impact of the veteran wide receiver on the team goes much further than just his eight 1,000+ yard seasons, his ranking second in every significant receiving category in team history, and his six pro bowl selections. Just based off of his on-the-field resume, he would appear to be a Hall of Fame caliber receiver, and indeed he is.
But factor in the other contributions he makes to the team and he's not just an incredible receiver but he's also one of the most beloved Colts of all time.
After all, who else would return to a 2-14 team that just ditched perhaps the best quarterback in NFL history to go with a rookie quarterback in the midst of a MASSIVE roster overhaul? But that's exactly what Reggie Wayne did. Most people expected him to leave in free agency, very possibly following Peyton Manning. Instead, Reggie came back to the Colts because of his love for the franchise and the city, and he immediately took on a much bigger leadership role than he ever had.
Reggie took on the role of teacher. With young, new receivers around him (namely rookie T.Y. Hilton), Reggie Wayne undertook the responsibility to teach them and help them improve as a receiver. He helped them acclimate to the NFL and get used to the NFL level; he helped them learn the offense; and he helped them always continue to improve.
Reggie took on the role of leader. In a 2012 season that saw the Colts undergo an incredibly trying time with head coach Chuck Pagano hospitalized with leukemia and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians taking over as interim head coach, it would have been easy for any team to be rattled and shaken by it - especially a really young team. But Reggie and the other veteran leaders stepped up and instead turned the season into a great rallying cry to play for Pagano, and the team stunned everyone and made the playoffs.
Reggie took on the role of the boss... and then he gave it up. Andrew Luck came into the league as a rookie, and Reggie just told him to throw to him. Luck was learning a ton and Reggie was helping him do so. But Reggie didn't hold onto the role any longer than he should have. He relinquished it to his quarterback, declaring himself the vice-president of the team and Luck the president.
Of course, Luck is a smart guy and took Reggie's advice. Wayne enjoyed one of the best seasons of his career, catching 106 passes for 1,355 yards and 5 scores. Bruce Arians' offense utilized him in new ways that brought out even more of the veteran receiver, including sending him in motion and using him as a blocker - both of which turned out to be great moves.
Ok, so he's a good player and a leader. Why does that make him the third most important player on the team this year?
First off, he's one of the team's best players, period. No matter which way you look at it, Reggie Wayne always appears near the top of the list for the best Colts players. That must come into consideration.
Secondly, his leadership will be needed this year yet again, and perhaps more importantly, his leadership will be needed to help fully transition leadership to Andrew Luck.
Thirdly, Reggie Wayne quickly became Luck's security blanket in 2012, and he is the one that Luck (rightfully) has the most confidence in. While T.Y. Hilton and Luck seem to have good chemistry and while it's very possible that one of the tight ends (Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener) could become that security blanket for Luck, Reggie will not get left out of the offense by any means. He still was the team's leading receiver in preseason, after all.
Fourth, there is nobody on the roster that could even come close to replacing Reggie Wayne. T.Y. Hilton is a very good receiver, but he's not a number one, possession type guy. Darrius Heyward-Bey isn't a good number one option either. Both of them likely will have good years with the Colts this year, but Reggie Wayne will be a large part in making sure that both T.Y. and DHB are in the best opportunities to thrive and that they don't have to do it all themselves.
As I said at the beginning, it's hard to describe the impact that Reggie Wayne has on this team. But watch one of their games, and you'll see it clearly.
When number 87 trots into the end zone and the crowd erupts in cheers of, "REGGIE! REGGIE! REGGIE!," you'll realize just how beloved Reggie Wayne is and just how important he is to the success of the Colts in 2013.