You could make an argument that the development of rookie wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers helped save the season for the Indianapolis Colts in 2013.
Perhaps that sounds over dramatic on the surface, but consider where this team was in early December and just how putrid their offense's was heading into their Week 14 match-up with the Cincinnati Bengals. They had averaged just 18 points-per-game in the four games prior, going 2-2 during that stretch with the two wins coming against the same team: The Tennessee Titans.
Also during this stretch, veteran receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey was regressing to the point of embarrassment. He had 3 of his 9 dropped passes on the season during this four-game period, and his Pro Football Focus ratings of -1.3, -0.4, -0.6, and -3.3 from Week 10-13 sealed his fate in the eyes of head coach Chuck Pagano. DHB's performance against the Titans in Week 13 was his worst of the season (-3.3), and, the following week against the Bengals, DHB had a key drop early on third down. DHB was benched, and played only 38% of the offensive snaps for the game. Da'Rick Rogers was inserted and had breakout performance of 6 receptions, 107 yards, and 2 touchdowns.
From Week 14 onward, Rogers started and saw a majority of the snaps on offense while DHB was relegated to special teams, where, to DHB's credit, he played quite well.
Prior to Rogers' breakout game, the Colts' offense was unwatchable. The team was boring, listless, and looked like yet another one-and-done playoff team IF they even managed to make the postseason. In my opinion, had Rogers not been inserted for DHB, Indianapolis would likely have made the playoffs as a 9-7 team and gotten crushed by the Chiefs in the first round.
Remember, it was Rogers' 46-yard grab in the third quarter that sparked the now-famous playoff comeback against K.C.
All of these words provide a set-up to this question going forward: Did Da'Rick Rogers truly prove to the Colts that he is a different person now than the kid who got into all that trouble at the University of Tennessee? Is he trustworthy going forward? Is he someone the team should invest in?
According to Rogers himself, via Mike Wells of ESPN.com, the answer is yes.
"I believe I showed the Colts that they can trust me, that I can come to work and be professional every day," Roger said.
It's up to the 22-year-old Rogers to continue to improve and to also avoid the off-the-field temptations. He was dismissed from Tennessee because of substance abuse problems and maturity issues.
"That stuff is in the past," Rogers said. "It's all about football for me. I'm still pretty disgusted with the loss and dropping those passes. I'm going to take a little bit of time off and then I'll be back here in Indy working out all the time."
Just like LaVon Brazill, another young wide receiver with substance abuse and maturity issues, Rogers is essentially hanging onto his last chance with the Colts. Both Brazill and Rogers stepped up big in December and in January, and both show great promise if they can keep their noses clean.
It's worth noting that, in the case of Brazill, his issues probably aren't traditionally tied to substance abuse. They guy was stupid and got caught twice smoking weed. If he gets caught a third time, it's a year-long suspension, which would be a career killer. Brazill was suspended for the first four games of the 2013 season because he failed his second drug test for marijuana.
There is a significant difference between smoking weed and, say, having an addiction to prescription pain killers, alcohol, or both. I acknowledge that it is possible for people to be addicted to marijuana, but it's been my experience that most of the world's addictive and dangerous substances are perfectly legal to purchase. Marijuana is illegal in the United States (unless you live in Colorado), and it is for that reason that Brazill is on Strike Two.
Recently, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league would consider medical marijuana to deal with post-concussion symptoms. Personally, I'm encouraged by this. I'm not a marijuana smoker (gee, can you tell?), but the fact that this stuff is illegal but drugs like codeine and Vicodin are not seems silly.
[Steps off soap box]
For Da'Rick Rogers, it's my thought that we need to see a full and complete season's worth of production before we start talking about long-term commitments or we make declarative statements that he has "proved" he can be trusted. This is my cynical brain talking. My heart roots for kids like Rogers and Brazill, and wants them to succeed.
Rogers had 15 receptions for 238 yards and 2 TDs in 2013, playing in 7 games total. 40% of his catches and all of his touchdowns came in one game. Take away Week 14 against the Bengals, and Rogers' production drops to 9 catches for 131 yards and no touchdowns. He also had 3 drops in 7 games, which isn't too far off from DHB territory.
What separates Rogers from DHB is Rogers seemed to make the big catches when he had to. He also got open and stretched the field, allowing teammates like T.Y. Hilton to get more favorable match-ups. Stuff like that doesn't show up on any sort of stats sheet.
What I'd like to see going forward for Rogers is more consistent production. He was completely shutout in the divisional round of the playoffs against the Patriots, a fact that seems to gnaw at Rogers. This is good. It should bother him and, hopefully, motivate him. I personally see more potential in Rogers than I do in tight end Coby Fleener, who was the No. 34 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. There's no reason why Rogers can't become the starting WR opposite T.Y. Hilton, with a returning Reggie Wayne spending more time in the slot in 2014.
However, Rogers has got to prove he can do that job consistently. He's absolutely capable of having 50+ catches for 700+ yards while maintaining his 13.7 yards-per-catch average. Rogers' main competition will come from Brazill and Griff Whalen, both of whom had equally productive seasons last year when they were given their opportunities.
It all makes for an interesting offseason for the wide receivers, especially if the Colts draft another wideout or sign a veteran in free agency.
Side Note: My spouse sometimes says that I get so worked up watching and critiquing football that I should consider smoking weed more often. I'm sure a few of you would agree with her.