Last night, I was sitting on my couch doing some writing, and I had the Browns preseason game on (mainly because, I'll admit, I wanted to watch Johnny Manziel... and his middle finger...). But while all eyes were on the quarterback battle between Manziel and Brian Hoyer, what I couldn't help but notice was how bad that receiving core was. They didn't do their quarterbacks any favors at all. Some teams, like the Browns, don't have much receiving talent at all to choose from.
On the other hand, there's the Colts, and they're faced with the decision they have to make as a result of potentially having too many good receiving options. So right away, realize that this is a good problem to have. But nonetheless, it's a decision the Colts will have to make, and it's the decision on whether to keep Griff Whalen, Da'Rick Rogers, or both of them at the receiver position.
"It's going to be extremely difficult because you see those guys making plays and doing great things. They've all had their moments," head coach Chuck Pagano said on a conference call Sunday. "Griff is Griff, and Griff is solid and consistent, and he goes out there and does a nice job and makes plays. 16, Da'Rick made some plays last night. I know he had one called back for an OPI, but did a nice job there on the touchdown, great release and catch for a touchdown pass."
"There's a lot of guys just trying to make a case for themselves, so these next couple weeks are going to be very, very important for all those guys. Obviously we're in a position now much better than any time since we've been here as far as the roster goes and the cut downs. Like we talked about early on, it's going to be extremely difficult to get to that final roster just because the talent level and the competition is so much better."
Pagano also didn't rule out the possibility of keeping six wide receivers. "We haven't really made a decision on that yet," he said. "There's a blueprint we've always kind of gone by based on health of guys and things like that not only at that one position, but at other positions. You may go heavy in a certain area because of health issues, injury issues, things like that. Guys may be available maybe a week or two into the season, so it's kind of up in the air as far as that goes right now."
The reality of the situation the Colts are facing is that T.Y. Hilton, Reggie Wayne, Hakeem Nicks, and Donte Moncrief are entrenched as the first four receivers and are all guaranteed of roster spots. The team is surely going to keep five receivers, but six? That's possible, but in no way is it a given. The only real two players in line for either the fifth or sixth spot are Whalen and Rogers.
Last year, Griff Whalen played in 9 games, catching 24 passes for 259 yards and 2 touchdowns while averaging 10.8 yards per catch. He also returned 8 punts for 104 yards (a 13 yard average) and 1 kickoff for 22 yards. So far this preseason, Whalen has caught 6 passes for 39 yards and a touchdown and returned 3 punts for 8 yards.
Da'Rick Rogers last season played in 5 games, catching 14 passes for 192 yards and 2 touchdowns, averaging 13.7 yards per catch. This preseason so far, he has caught 2 passes for 59 yards and 1 touchdown.
With Whalen, and Pagano alluded to this, you're getting a consistent, reliable receiver. Whalen has great hands, knows how to run routes, and will be a solid slot receiver. With Rogers, you get a lot more upside, but at the same time you get a lot more inconsistency and struggles. He had a subpar training camp and even in the second preseason game against the Giants, we saw both sides of him. We saw the good, when he fought off press coverage and made a nice touchdown grab, but we also saw the bad - not as big of an impact in the offense, an offensive pass interference penalty, giving up on a route thrown to him, etc.
Neither are guaranteed of a roster spot by any means - one of them will make it for sure, but there's no guarantee both will. And after watching both of them in both training camp and preseason extensively, plus based on what I'm hearing and seeing as the feel around the team, here's what I think: the Colts would like to keep both of them if the rest of the roster shakes out well, but if they're forced to keep just one, it'd likely be Griff Whalen over Da'Rick Rogers.
And that would make perfect sense. Whalen would help the offense out and would be a consistent slot guy who they can count on. Also, I don't believe that Whalen is eligible for the practice squad, while Da'Rick Rogers is. Additionally, Whalen has a much bigger impact on special teams than Rogers does, and I'd be surprised if Whalen isn't the punt returner in week one.
I think it's probably likely that the Colts will keep six players at the receiver position. If they only keep five, however, I believe it would be Whalen. But the thing that we have to remember is that nothing has been decided yet, and the competition and decision will be something to watch over the coming weeks. One thing is for sure, though - this is a good problem to have.