With 7:21 left in the fourth quarter of a game the Colts led 30-36 over the Denver Broncos at home on Sunday Night Football, the Colts offense faced a 3rd down and 1 at a crucial point in the game. A first down would keep Peyton Manning off the field for at least a few more minutes. Everyone expected a run from offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton. Instead, he called a pass play. It was a play action pass that sent Stanley Havili out in the flat to the right from the backfield as Andrew Luck faked the handoff to Donald Brown. He looked for Havili but there was a defender there bringing pressure, so Luck pulled the ball back and then looked across the middle of the field. Reggie Wayne was running a crossing route across the middle and was wide open. Luck threw the ball to him, but it was low. Reggie tried to scoop the pass up and in doing so went down awkwardly and immediately grabbed his knee.
Just like that, the Colts best receiver was done for the season with a torn ACL. It was a touchdown if thrown well, but instead it resulted in the Colts losing one of their best and most important players.
The day after the game, Andrew Luck talked about the play. "Looking back it again today, there was really no one within 30 yards of him. He probably would have scored if I actually give him a decent ball," Luck said. "I feel somewhat responsible for the whole thing. Didn't complete it and I guess such is football at times. We'll move on.... I think I feel sick to my stomach about it a little bit. But I also realize it's football. I don't think Reggie wants me holding it over my head that it happened. So, after the game though, a big part of me almost felt like it was a loss in a sense because of what happened to Reggie and my involvement in it." [These comments came after a huge Colts win over Peyton Manning's previously unbeaten Broncos, 39-33.]
Reggie Wayne wasn't just the Colts best receiver, he was one of the league's best receivers. He had amassed over 1,000 receiving yards in 8 of the last 9 seasons and was well on his way to doing so for the 9th time in 10 years in 2013. He played only 7 games before tearing his ACL, but in those 7 games he caught 38 passes for 503 yards (13.2 yards per catch) and 2 touchdowns - which would put him at 86.86 catches, 1,149.71 yards, and 4.57 touchdowns in a 16-game season had Reggie played a full year. The Colts lost a lot of production when Reggie went down.
Making matters worse is the fact that Reggie Wayne was much more important to the Colts than his numbers even suggested. The Colts wide receivers weren't a very deep group. In fact, the Colts final stats at the end of the year still had Reggie Wayne as the third leading Colt in terms of receiving yards and the second most for a receiver. And he only played in 7 games. That describes the season well for the Colts wide receiver position - it wasn't that great overall.
The player who really stepped up in the absence of Reggie Wayne was T.Y. Hilton. Hilton improved on a very impressive rookie season by taking massive steps forward in his second year, leading the team with 82 catches for 1,083 yards and 5 touchdowns in the regular season. Including the playoffs, Hilton caught 99 passes for 1,410 yards and 7 touchdowns in 18 games. He caught 11 passes for 155 yards in the regular season finale against the Jaguars and then followed that up with one of the best single game receiving performances in NFL playoff history, catching 13 passes for 224 yards and 2 touchdowns (including the game-winner) against the Chiefs. Hilton really improved as a football player this year, as he took double teams more often after stepping up into the number one receiver role after Reggie Wayne's injury. Hilton emerged as a legitimate number one wideout, which was great to see. He proved numerous times just how hard he is to cover, as he succeeded at short, intermediate, and deep routes.
Unbelievably, however, Hilton wasn't even the team's number two receiver entering the season. Hilton was actually third on the depth chart behind Reggie and Darrius Heyward-Bey, who the Colts signed as a free agent in the offseason. But DHB was terrible this year. In training camp, one of the media members joked that DHB actually stood for "Doesn't Hold Balls," and that proved to be more and more true as the season went on. He caught only 29 passes all season (on 62 targets!) for 309 yards and one touchdown. That's it. He was a receiver who couldn't catch, and as a result the Colts eventually benched him and relegated him to special teams duties. DHB had a miserable season primarily because he couldn't catch the football, and the only positive thing about the singing last offseason was that it was only a one-year deal. In other words, DHB won't be back next season.
Three other receivers stepped up to fill DHB's role as he kept being pushed down and down the depth chart, and they played well for the most part. Griff Whalen played in 11 games (catching a pass in 9) including the playoffs, catching 31 passes for 352 yards and 2 touchdowns. LaVon Brazill played in 12 games (catching a pass in 8) including the playoffs, catching 18 passes for 288 yards and 4 touchdowns. Da'Rick Rogers played in 7 games (catching a pass in 5) including the playoffs, catching 15 passes for 238 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Whalen was very impressive in training camp but did not do much at all early on with the Colts. He was on-again/off-again on the active roster, and he showed limitations - notably that he didn't create separation with defenders. After being released and signed to the practice squad once again, however, he was promoted once again to the active roster and this time really impressed. He earned quite a bit of playing time in the final weeks of the season and showed a nice ability to get open and catch the football. He became the most reliable of the three receivers for quarterback Andrew Luck.
LaVon Brazill showed the most explosiveness of the three receivers. He was suspended for the first four weeks of the season and then even after that he didn't do much, catching just 2 passes for 20 yards combined in his first five games active. In his final five games of the regular season, however, he produced, catching 10 passes for 161 yards and 2 touchdowns. In the two playoff games, Brazill caught 6 passes for 127 yards and 2 touchdowns. In the divisonal round loss to the Patriots, Brazill caught 2 passes for 73 yards and 2 touchdowns - his second two-touchdown performance of the season.
Da'Rick Rogers has the most potential of the three, in my opinion, but he has a lot of work to do. He was an undrafted free agent, though not because of talent but because of off-the-field issues. He was a very talented receiver with a second round grade among most people, and the Colts signed him after the Bills cut him after training camp. Rogers spent much of the season inactive, and his first game active was in week 13 against the Titans, but he was not targeted once. The next week against the Bengals, Rogers burst onto the scene with 6 catches for 107 yards and 2 touchdowns. He ended up catching 14 passes for 192 yards and 2 touchdowns in the final four weeks of the season (including the Bengals game). In the playoffs, however, he only caught one pass for 46 yards combined (it was a huge play in the game, though) and was only targeted 6 times in 2 playoff games combined. In the game vs. the Patriots, he dropped several passes (I had him down for 3 drops on 4 targets) and that resulted in less playing time for Rogers. It is clear that he has plenty of work to do this offseason - he needs to become a better route runner, needs more work with Andrew Luck on timing, and he needs to get more reliable with catching. He is very talented but raw right now. His progress is pleasing but he should not just automatically be handed a major receiver role next season - in other words, he should have to earn it. With hard work in the offseason, he can do just that.
|Griff Whalen||2||11||31||352||2||11.35||Most Reliable|
|LaVon Brazill||2||12||18||288||4||16.0||Most Explosive|
|Da'Rick Rogers||1||7||15||238||2||15.87||Most Potential|
Going forward, the Colts need to address the position. T.Y. Hilton is phenomenal, but other than that it's uncertain. Reggie Wayne is still a great player, but we'll need to see how he comes back from a torn ACL at 35 years old - I'm not ruling him out by any means, but I'm also not going to pretend it's any certainty that he'll be back at or around the level he has been. The emergence of Griff Whalen, LaVon Brazill, and Da'Rick Rogers late in the season - all of them young, talented receivers - likely allows the Colts to address other more pressing needs first (like the offensive line), but that doesn't mean that they shouldn't still address the receiver position. They should bring in a receiver or two and allow them to compete with Whalen, Brazill, and Rogers in training camp.
With Reggie Wayne going down mid-season, the receiver position took a massive hit. If it weren't for T.Y. Hilton, this position would have been completely awful in the second half of the season. DHB had a terrible season, but Griff Whalen, LaVon Brazill, and Da'Rick Rogers did a solid job filling in late in the season. Overall, the Colts did a respectable job with the talent they had, but the receiver position still wasn't great overall this season.