For the third day in a row, the player that appears on our countdown of the 15 most important Colts for the 2015 season is a newcomer. Two days ago it was running back Frank Gore, yesterday it was pass rusher Trent Cole, and then today is is wide receiver Andre Johnson, who checks in at number 11 on our list.
The Colts' wide receiver position looks stacked right now, as we know. T.Y. Hilton is emerging as a star at the position and is the team's number one wideout, and then Donte Moncrief has a lot of potential entering his second year. The Colts also drafted Phillip Dorsett in the first round of this year's draft and signed free agent Duron Carter out of the CFL. Despite all of that, however, perhaps the biggest move that the Colts made at the position was to sign veteran Andre Johnson in free agency. In 12 seasons with the Texans, Johnson has played in 169 games and has caught 1,012 passes for 13,597 yards and 64 touchdowns (averaging 13.4 yards per catch), numbers that will make him a borderline Hall of Fame candidate one day. Right now, however, the 34-year old Johnson is entering his first season with the Colts, playing with a legitimate quarterback in Andrew Luck and hoping to win a Super Bowl before he retires.
Johnson is essentially replacing Reggie Wayne on the Colts, and he probably has a bit more left in the tank than Wayne at this point. And despite the talent that the Colts have at the receiver position, Johnson will be a key part to what the Colts want to do offensively. T.Y. Hilton will be the number one target, but Johnson is a player who will occupy a different role in the offense than the other wideouts. Moncrief, Dorsett, and Carter are all speedsters who provide a deep threat, and while the hope is that they will develop into more than that, the reality is that right now they are in a much more defined role - that is, as a speedy deep threat. Hilton can provide that as well, but he also is a very good route runner who can be a possession receiver too, combining both aspects. It is Johnson, however, who will likely be the possession receiver while guys like Moncrief and Dorsett (and possibly Carter a bit too) serve in a different role.
Because of that, Johnson's role in the offense won't be phased out as the season goes on, because he's an important part of what the team wants to do and what the team needs. He is a veteran who can serve as a leader in the locker room, and he is a player who has routinely produced in the NFL on offenses far less talented than this one and with quarterbacks far less impressive. Though he's 34-years old, he still can play, and in fact in Reggie Wayne's age 34 season he caught 106 passes for 1,355 yards and five touchdowns with the Colts (in 2012). Wayne was much more central to that offense than Johnson will be for the offense in 2015, as the team has much better overall receiving talent this year than in 2012, but while it might not be a great comparison, it does show you that just because a receiver is 34 years old (considered by many to be "old"), it doesn't mean that he can't produce.
The Colts will need Andre Johnson to do just that if they hope to reach the heights that they know they can in 2015, and for Johnson to get to (and win) his first career Super Bowl will take a good season from the veteran receiver. He doesn't have to carry the offense and will be complemented by T.Y. Hilton and the other receivers, Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener, and Frank Gore while playing with Andrew Luck, which could open Johnson up for even more success. But despite that other talent, the reality of the situation is that the Colts will need a possession receiver and Johnson's role will be exactly that this year.
In the past two seasons, the Colts offense has become way too one-dimensional in the passing game, centering solely around T.Y. Hilton. In 2013, it happened after Reggie Wayne went down with injury, and in 2014 it happened again when Wayne struggled because of injury. For much of the past two seasons, it has been all T.Y. Hilton and only T.Y. Hilton as a reliable receiving threat for the Colts, with tight end Coby Fleener being the second-best option. And while the offense and the passing game has done a lot of good things during that span, they clearly have been hindered by the fact that it has largely been up to Hilton. In other words, for the offense to reach their full potential in 2015, they will need more receivers to draw attention from the defense than just Hilton. Andre Johnson figures to be exactly that for the Colts, and for them to reach the lofty expectations set for them, they'll need him to.
Past rankings on this list: N/A (first appearance)
Check out our list counting down the 15 most important players to the Colts' success in 2015:
15. Jerrell Freeman, ILB
14. Greg Toler, CB
11. Andre Johnson, WR