Coming out of the 2018 spring training program, there are early indications of progress and setbacks at numerous positions for the Indianapolis Colts. During the summer break period of the off-season, we will take a look at each position on the Colts roster as compared to where it was at this time a year ago and try to project how the roster will look in September.
We continue this project by focusing on a young wide receiver group who hopes to prove itself with a healthy Andrew Luck.
The One Constant
With the current group of wide receivers there is only one known quantity. T.Y. Hilton has started his career as one of the league’s most consistent performers. He has failed to reach 1000 yards receiving only twice, his rookie season and last year without Andrew Luck. Even with an injured Luck in 2016, Hilton led the league in receiving yards with 1,448.
There is very little doubt that Hilton is dialed in and ready to get his quarterback back onto the field. When they play together, big things happen.
The Other Veterans
Chester Rogers is entering his third season in Indianapolis after going undrafted in 2016. He showed flashes of potential late in his rookie season and established some rapport with Andrew Luck. Heading into the 2017 season, there were hopes that he might breakout.
Unfortunately, Rogers played in only 11 games after missing time with a hamstring injury. We can only speculate as to how much that injury hampered him for the entire year. Either way, when the offense was desperately looking to find someone to complement Hilton and tight end Jack Doyle as a consistent target, Rogers didn’t carve out that spot.
It is entirely possible that he could enter training camp and preseason this year without the lingering hamstring issues. If he does, and if he gets back on the same page with Luck, he could be a reliable piece of the wide receiver rotation and should be a front-runner to start.
Free agent newcomer Ryan Grant joins the team with a history of production with the Washington Redskins. He was never the primary threat in DC but he showed some flashes of his potential and was a primary weapon at times. He is known as a reliable receiver who will do more to keep the chains moving than to take the top off of the defense.
Grant will also have an inside track to earn a starting position during training camp. He will have to hope that he can break what has been an absolutely awful streak of under-performance for free agent wide receivers who make their way to Indianapolis.
A Group of Talented Rookies
Chris Ballard spent two draft picks to address the team’s needs at wide receiver. The first was small school prospect Daurice Fountain, with rare athleticism as a state champion in the 110 meter hurdles and long jump in high school. He used this explosiveness to post an impressive 42.5-inch vertical leap at Northern Iowa’s Pro Day in March. This, along with a 4.46 40-yard dash time, is impressive for a 6-foot-1, 210 pound receiving prospect.
While Fountain made a couple of plays during spring training activities, he was outperformed by fellow draft pick Deon Cain. Cain was extremely under-drafted when the Colts picked him in the sixth round. He was projected by a lot of scouting agencies as a second or third round prospect prior to the draft.
While many undrafted or under-drafted player comment on having a chip on their shoulder, Cain looked the part. He earned a reputation as a red zone target, making tough grabs in tight windows. He earned a lot of praise from the coaching staff for his ability to get out of his breaks and showed off traits that often translate into production as an NFL receiver. It is far to early to hand Cain anything but he definitely looks like a lock for the roster at this point and could threaten for snaps if the veterans ahead of him falter or suffer injuries.
The final rookie prospects who stands out is Steve Ishmael, an undrafted free agent out of Syracuse. After the draft came to an end, Ishmael was on a relatively short list of high priority free agents who very easily could have been drafted.
At 6-foot-2 and 212 pounds he is another physically imposing receiver who made a name for himself in college as his team’s primary target. He could become a chain mover and red zone threat if he can continue developing. While he didn’t receive a great deal of attention during spring training activities, he is certainly a player to watch closely during training camp and preseason work. The last receiver who played for the Colts out of Syracuse turned out pretty good — see Harrison, Marvin.
Still Searching for a Core Group
There are a lot of new faces in the wide receiver room in Indianapolis. Given that the unit last year was unable to give fans and the Colts front office confidence, that is a good thing. Of course, when there is a great deal of turnover and a lot of new faces, there is still a lot of unknown. As mentioned before, Indianapolis has had pretty awful luck in getting meaningful production out of free agents at the position.
Despite history, there are a lot of players who have appear to have higher floors at wide out than there were in 2017. It is fair to expect Chester Rogers to have a better season if he stays healthy. While Grant is not flashy, he is a player whose career is still on an upward trajectory. The rookie prospects all have relatively high ceilings, with Cain having the type of potential the Colts saw in Donte Moncrief.
As with running back, there isn’t a question about having enough bodies or the potential for a strong rotation at the position but there are plenty of question-marks about just how quickly a lot of players will develop, and which players will best fit in an entirely new offensive scheme.