Hakeem Nicks has not had the explosive season that many expected from him. He's had a minimal impact in most games and has been outplayed by third round pick Donte Moncrief. Nicks has struggled to find consistency as a Colt. They only needed him to fill the role of a number three receiver, yet he has not been able to fill it. He'll only show up for a couple of plays each game and then disappear for the rest of it. For a cap hit of 3.5M, Nicks has proven that the costs outweigh the benefits regarding his contract, and a return in 2015 is unlikely despite a potential departure from Reggie Wayne.
There has been some good with Hakeem Nicks, and it is worth noting. In the blowout loss against the Cowboys, one of the very few positives (or maybe the only positive) was that Nicks had 9 catches for 72 yards. What's also worth noting is that Nicks has four touchdown catches on the season, his highest total since 2011. Let's look at two plays that highlight some of the good of what he's done this season.
Play #1: New England Patriots Game
On this play, Nicks is playing the left wide receiver position and is against Logan Ryan of the Patriots, who is in press coverage. The scoreboard is cut off but it's late in the 1st half and the Colts are down by 11 points. A touchdown is crucial.
As the play begins, Nicks has a good get-off and has outside leverage on Ryan. It's obvious that he's executing a fade route. So far, so good for Nicks.
Nicks has done a good job of locating the ball, and has also gotten his body in position to make the catch. He still has leverage (and an advantage) over Ryan and if the ball is placed properly, he should be able to snatch it.
The ball has been placed perfectly by Luck (aimed towards Nicks' outside shoulder) and because Nicks was in good position he was able to make the catch and get both of his feet down.
Overall, Nicks did a very good job of beating his man off the line, getting in position, locating the ball and making the tough catch over the defender. This was a classic Hakeem Nicks move that we have not seen often this season. It was a big play and it helped keep the Colts in the game going into the 2nd half.
Play #2: Pittsburgh Steelers Game
On this play, we see again that Nicks is lined up at the right wide receiver spot and is against a cornerback who is in press coverage. It's an important third down and as you can tell by the score, getting a touchdown is important for the Colts here.
As the play begins, Nicks has gotten outside leverage on his defender (once again) and all that needs to be done is for Luck to spot Nicks going down the field, which he does.
As we can see at the top left of the screen, Luck has launched the ball towards Nicks. Nicks has not necessarily beaten his defender, but he has located the ball and is preparing to adjust his body to make the catch.
On this screenshot, the ball is seen at the top of the screen with the black box around it. Nicks has located it and has adjusted to make the catch.
His defender has done a nice job of keeping up with him, but because of the perfect pass and the fact that Nicks has been able to adjust his body properly, the catch is made. Nicks also does a fantastic job of keeping in bounds while having possession of the football.
Like Play #1, Nicks is pressed at the line, gets an explosive start, beats his man to the outside and it able to locate the ball and make the catch. This is what you want from receivers in these situations. As mentioned earlier, this is classic Hakeem Nicks that we wish we saw more this year.
There has definitely been more bad than good this year with Hakeem Nicks. Let's examine two plays that exemplify what Nicks hasn't been able to do this season.
In this sequence, Nicks is lined up in the slot on the left side. His defender is backed off in coverage, indicating a probable zone coverage.
As the play starts, the defender backs off 3 yards into coverage and Nicks is performing a quick in route, which has gone well thus far. He has perfectly planted his left (outside) foot and is in the midst of making his cut inside. He has five yards between him and the defender.
Andrew Luck has made the right decision to target Hakeem Nicks as he has the separation between him and the defender. Nicks is in good position to catch the ball and the ball is perfectly placed. Nicks should catch the ball with ease here.
The ball is dropped by Nicks. A perfectly placed ball was dropped by Nicks and it sets up a third and long for the Colts.
Overall, drops have been a issue (6.4% drop rate), but it's part of a more general problem with Nicks: not taking advantage of his opportunities. Nicks doesn't see the ball too often, with just 72 targets on the season (4.8 a game), so catching every easy ball is a must.
Play #4: Tennessee Titans Game
On this play, Nicks is lined up at the bottom of the screen at the right wide receiver position. His defender is lined up in press coverage and there is a safety playing over the top on his side.
As the play starts, Luck immediately recognizes Nicks and the press coverage. He intends on going over the top and hitting him on the fade. Nicks is off to a decent start, but the defender is still in good position versus him. He doesn't necessarily have outside leverage here.
Luck has targeted Nicks and despite no outside leverage and a nice job by the cornerback of keeping him jammed up and slowing him down, there is still a good chance for Nicks to get the ball. He's a strong receiver who should win most of the 50-50 battles.
Unfortunately there was a slight disruption in the broadcast, but nevertheless you can still see that Nicks has a great chance at getting the ball. He leaps over his defender, is in perfect position to get the ball. However, he drops the pass despite being in perfect position. Another drop pass and it cost the Colts a touchdown here.
Overall, this is another example of Nicks costing the team points. Nicks was jammed up at the line, but despite the good adjustment and getting in perfect position to win the toss up, he drops the pass.
As we saw in Plays #3 and #4, Nicks still shows good technique and he understands the game well, but the lack of effort on some passes and the drops have hurt his season.
As mentioned earlier, he has been outplayed by third round rookie Donte Moncrief. Nicks was given plenty of chances at the beginning of the year, and they even kept an explosive Moncrief on the bench in favour of Nicks. As the season goes on, the shift from Nicks to Moncrief is becoming more and more apparent and it's obvious that the number three receiver role belongs to Moncrief now.
From Weeks 1 to 6, Nicks played 54.89% (269/490) of the snaps, compared to Moncrief, who played in 15.10% (74/490) of the snaps.
From Weeks 7 to 13, Nicks played 49.27% (203/412) of the snaps, whereas Moncrief played in 38.10% (157/412) of the snaps. Nicks' percentage went down 5.62%, whereas Moncrief's percentage went up 23%.
From Weeks 14 to 16, Nicks played 44.70% (97/217) of the snaps, whereas Moncrief played in 64.51% (140/217) of the snaps.
Compared to the numbers from Weeks 7 to 13, Nicks' percentage went down 4.57%, whereas Moncrief's percentage went up 26.41%. Compared to Weeks 1 to 6, Nicks' percentage went down 10.19% and Moncrief's percentage went up 49.41%.
What these numbers show is that there's been a progression in Moncrief's snap count numbers and a regression Nicks' number. Moncrief has been taking over Nicks' role and for good reason. Moncrief has been doing what Nicks was expected to do. Despite only starting in two games, Moncrief has two 100 yard games. He also has a 79 yard touchdown on his record as well as a 14.8 yard per reception average (compared to Nicks' 10.8 yards per reception average). Moncrief is explosive, Nicks is not. Nicks will have some flashes in the pan, but he hasn't done anything close to what Moncrief has done this season.
Nicks is a free agent at the end of the season, and it's very unlikely that he returns to Indianapolis. He has lost the explosiveness and playmaking ability that he once had in New York. He had lost a step in his last couple of seasons in New York and many thought a change of scenery would make a difference. It has not. Just like Darrius Heyward-Bey last season, Nicks has come in with relatively high expectations and has fallen flat. Granted, Heyward-Bey was a worse player than Nicks and had some spectacular drops, but nevertheless, Nicks, like Heyward-Bey failed to have a impact on the passing game.