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Colts Positions Upgrade Guide: Wide Receivers

New York Giants v Indianapolis Colts
TY Hilton is the clear leader in the Indianapolis Colts wide receiver room but does he need some help?
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The Colts have made it to the end of the season, a very successful one. Colts head coach Frank Reich and the team managed to overcome a 1-5 start to the season and finish it off with a playoff run that included a wildcard win but ultimately ended in a divisional round loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. The season as a whole was nothing short of a huge successful turn around in comparison to the previous campaign, and another step in the right direction in the rebuild under Chris Ballard.

One of the major takeaways from the year must be just how much General Manager Chris Ballard, the scouting department, Frank Reich and his coaching staff were able to unearth and develop talent. Ballard and co found a linebacker from South Carolina State and Reich and co turned him into a All Pro linebacker. Ballard and co found a guard from Auburn and Reich and co turned him into a solid right tackle and all rookie team member. And it wasn’t just draft picks they were able to develop. Just ask “draft bust” Eric Ebron, or should I say Pro Bowl TE and receiver of 13 touchdowns (tied for second most in the league) Eric Ebron. Or maybe ask former 5th pick turned waiver claim Mark Glowinski, who seized the starting right guard job and never looked back. The Colts have been exceptional in talent acquisition and development this year but the roster still has some way to go until it’s been fully rebuilt.

Stampede Blue will dive into each potential position of need, giving a detailed look at the current state of each position and avenues and targets in which to upgrade.

Wide Receiver:

Probably the position most needed of an upgrade is the wide receiver position. This group was most the most underwhelming and under performing group on the team in 2018. The group as a whole was very short of talent outside of WR1 TY Hilton. The rest of the group was made up of waiver claims, rookies and veteran free agency additions. Hilton produced as he always does racking up 1270 yards receiving and 6 touchdowns. However, the rest of the group only managed 1493 yards receiving and 8 touchdowns between the five of them, that’s an average of less than 300 yards per receiver. The Colts offense was creative, innovative and at times looked unstoppable, but when top defenses challenged them the receivers failed to step up and even found ways to hurt themselves in the form of drops and tipped interceptions.

Looking ahead to the 2019 season the receivers that are currently under contract are TY Hilton, Deon Cain, Daurice Fountain and Zach Pascal, not exactly the group you would expect to be paired up with a elite level quarterback that the Colts have in Andrew Luck. TY Hilton is a certain top 10 wide receiver talent in the league, Cain is a sixth round rookie who tore his ACL in training camp, Fountain is a fifth round rookie who spent the majority of the season on the practice squad and then Pascal who was on the roster for the entire season but continually failed to impress. The wide receiver group screams “upgrade me!”

Pending Free Agents

The Colts will have to make decisions on the impeding wide receivers who are set to become free agents. Ryan Grant was signed in last years free agency period to a 1 year deal and was nothing more than a disappointment who consistently underwhelmed, Grant is not at all a likely candidate to be resigned. Dontrelle Inman was signed during week 7 of the regular season and was the only receiver who managed to find consistency in separating, catching and supporting Hilton, this has likely earned Inman a chance to be resigned. Chester Rogers was signed as an undrafted free agent after the 2016 draft. Rogers was in a backup role in 2016 and 2017 but 2018 was given the opportunity to fight for a starting role opposite TY Hilton. However, after a season of disappointing games which were dominated by drops Rogers fell down the depth chart. He did manage to muster 485 yards receiving and 2 touchdowns but an average of 30 yards per game is exactly why Rogers took a tumble down the depth chart. Rogers is set to become a restricted free agent, if the Colts are to retain Rogers it will likely only be with an original-round tender.

Upgrades via free agency

One way in which the Colts can upgrade the wide receiver group is free agency. The Colts are sitting on the biggest amount of cap space in the league at approximately $115 million, before any re-signings. Chris Ballard has a way in which he goes about free agency, he has a set plan in place and doesn't deviate from that plan. So if you’re expecting Ballard to go out and splash big money on big name free agents then think again. Ballard targets guys who will add to the team in terms of both talent and presence, on and off the field. In terms of wide receivers Ballard has a type in which he seems to target, going back to his Kansas City days, he hasn’t signed or drafted a wide receiver under 6 foot tall. With this in mind let’s take a dive into who could be possible targets.

Tyrell Williams is a name that has been consistently linked to the Colts as a possible free agent acquisition throughout the season on Colts Twitter. Williams signed with the Chargers as a undrafted free agent out of Western Oregon in 2015, his rookie year was quiet only posting 2 receptions for 90 yards but since he has been a very good complimentary receiver to Keenan Allen in the Chargers offense. Williams, 6 feet 4 inches tall and 204lbs, is exactly what the Colts are looking for to pair with Hilton. He is a big target who can make plays down the field and help elevate the pressure off of Hillton’s shoulders. Since Williams rookie season he has produced at least 600 yards, 4 touchdowns and 40 catches a year. The Colts wont be the only team with eyes on Williams and this will cause his price to go up, Spotrac currently has Williams projected market value at $9.6 million per year. The Colts have a big addition in their corner when it comes to trying to sign Williams. Williams wide receiver coach for his 2016 and 2017 seasons is the current Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni. Sirianni helped Williams to his best statistical year in 2016 in which he posted 1,059 yards receiving and 7 touchdowns.

Devin Funchess is another possible free agent target the Colts go acquire to upgrade the wide receiver position. Funchess was drafted in the second round out of Michigan in 2015, he had played tight for nearly all of his college career but switched to wide receiver and has played the position his entire NFL career. Funchess rookie and sophomore years were relatively quiet, statistically speaking, posting 473 yards receiving and 5 touchdowns in his rookie year and 371 yards receiving and 4 touchdowns in his sophomore year. His breakout year came in 2017 in which he managed 840 yards receiving and 8 touchdowns. Funchess, 6 feet 4 inches tall and 225lbs, is another receiver who is a big target who stretches the field and who be a big addition to line up opposite Hilton. Funchess has been a big part of the Panthers passing attack but hasn’t always been Cam Newton’s favorite target. 2018 wasn’t Funchess best year as he produced fewer catches, yards and touchdowns than the previous year, however he is only 24 years old, the arrow is definitely pointing up and a big reason why Spotrac has his market value at $8.9 million per year. Going from Cam Newton to Andrew Luck might be exactly what Funchess needs to take his career to the next level and help improve an already good Colts offense in the process.

Kevin White isn’t a name many have imagined when thinking about the Colts upgrading the wide receiver position this offseason. White was a first round draft pick by the Chicago Bears in 2015 out of West Virginia, he was rated by most as one of the top two receivers in the draft class alongside Amari Cooper. The Bears picked him seventh overall but that was the best moment of White’s NFL career so far, in every season but the last White has ended on injured reserve and only managing to play five games in total in 3 years. In 2018, White’s only healthy year, he managed to play in nine games but only mustered 4 catches and 92 yards receiving and no touchdowns. Overall Kevin White can be characterized as a first round bust and no one would disagree with you. However, White has been plagued with injuries throughout his NFL career really only playing one year and only played two years of college football. White, 6 feet 3 inches tall and 216lbs, ran a 4.35 forty yard dash time at the NFL combine and possess the physical traits you would want in a wide receiver but unfortunately injuries have all but derailed his career. The Colts have history with so called draft busts, just ask Eric Ebron. If the Colts believe they can develop White into the wide receiver many thought he would become when entering the league then he would be a great addition at a relatively cheap price. Not many teams will be fighting for his services due to his career so far but a one year prove it deal would give the team an opportunity to see what White can do.

Upgrades via draft

Another means of upgrading the wide receiver position is through the draft. Chris Ballard since becoming the Colts General Manager has preached building the team through the draft. The Colts currently have eight draft picks in the upcoming NFL draft, with possibly one more to come through the compensatory pick system, with their first three picks to be within the first 60 draft selections. This gives the Colts ample draft resources to upgrade the wide receiver group.

N’Keal Harry from Arizona State is currently one of the top wide receivers projected to be drafted in this years draft. Harry, 6 feet 4 inches tall and 215lbs, has the contested catch ability and yards after the catch ability that matches his size very favorably. Harry is currently projected to be drafted in the late first round, which just so happens to be where the Colts will be picking, 26th overall to be exact.

Deebo Samuel from South Carolina is one of the upcoming draft eligible wide receivers who is currently showing off his skills at the Senior Bowl. Samuel, 6 feet tall and 215lbs, has come from a college in which quarterback play did not help his draft stock, however he was still able to put up tape of great route running, versatility and yards after the catch ability. Samuel is currently projected to be drafted in the second or third round but if he puts on a good showing at the Senior Bowl he could push his draft stock even higher. The Colts currently have two second round selections, one early pick via the New York Jets and their own pick, as well as one third round pick.

David Sills from West Virginia didn’t have the typical route in becoming a wide receiver that will be selected in the upcoming draft. Sills, 6 feet 4 inches and 205lbs, was originally recruited to West Virginia as a quarterback, he left WVU at the end of the 2015 college season to go start at quarterback for El Camino College. After the 2016 season Sills went back to WVU but this time to play wide receiver. Sills has since developed into a receiver who can stretch the field vertically, has a big catch radius due to his length and can consistently pull in contested catches