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The Longshot: Zach Pascal is emerging as an unlikely star


The three letters Indianapolis Colts WR Zach Pascal types out as he comments on the NFL account’s latest video. The post isn’t about Russell Wilson or Christian McCaffrey. It isn’t about Deshaun Watson or Lamar Jackson. It’s about Pascal himself. More specifically, about how he’s caught the eye of Hall of Fame legend Jerry Rice.

It’s an incredible moment for a wideout just recently thrown into the spotlight. Having beaten the slim odds to even make the NFL, Pascal is using his new platform to the best of his abilities, and it turns out that more than just the Colts are noticing. Rice is too.

Undrafted two years ago, it’s been a constant uphill battle for Pascal since his early years. Recruited out of high school as a cornerback, he received 5 collegiate offers, yet none from power-5 schools. Choosing Old Dominion, Pascal went on to have a successful career, posting over 2600 receiving yards and 25 total touchdowns during his time with the Monarchs.

It wasn’t enough, however, to climb Pascal out of the deep hole that came with a small school tag. Barely receiving an invite to the combine in Indianapolis (ironic), he didn’t do enough to convince teams he was worth spending resources on, posting poor agility scores and a marginal forty time. It caused him to be passed over come April, but it wasn’t the end of Pascal’s inspiring journey. Not by a long shot.

Originally latching onto the Washington Redskins as an undrafted free agent, Pascal’s stay in the nation’s capital was short-lived, as he was cut in early September 2017. From there the Tennessee Titans claimed the wideout and immediately put him on their practice squad. Promoted to the actual roster just 3 weeks later, it appeared as if Pascal might stick. It appeared wrong.

3 days later he was cut and put back on the practice squad, where he would stay until he was cut the following June.

Like an eagle eyeing its prey, Indianapolis Colts GM Chris Ballard jumped at the recently released receiver, putting in a claim and acquiring Pascal less than 24 hours after his release. The scrappy wideout made the best of his new - and potentially last - opportunity, making the Colts final roster and establishing himself as a key reserve.

It was a great story, but it wasn’t time to get complacent. If anything, it was the opposite. Acquiring Devin Funchess, drafting Parris Campbell, and with two emerging sophomores in Deon Cain and Daurice Fountain returning to the fold - it looked like Pascal was the odd man out heading into the 2019 season.

His undrafted, underrated nature was haunting him once again, and his lack of a “key” trait had him squarely on the outside looking in. That was at least until Fountain suffered a season-ending ankle injury just weeks before the season began. The open spot allowed Pascal to slide into a key reserve role just like the year before, potentially saving the Colts season in the process.

Thriving with a combination of injuries, under-performing teammates, and his own unreal play, Pascal is now the team’s de-facto #1 receiver halfway through the season - and even if he may not look like one - he’s certainly playing like one.

Catching 70.4% of the balls thrown his way, Pascal has already far exceeded his stat total from last year, and his average yards per target is up a whopping 6 yards (now 11.9). QB’s have a staggering 141% passer rating when targeting him this season, while Pascal’s body control, spatial awareness, and dependability have helped provide a desperately needed boost to a lackluster Colts passing game.

Indy’s quality control assistant, Gunnard Twyner - a former professional WR - further talked about Pascal’s impressive breakout campaign, highlighting his overall balance as a key strength.

And it’s that balance, despite Pascal’s recent uptick in splash plays, that has kept him grounded. He was brought to Indy for his special teams ability and blocking prowess, which is something that he hasn’t lost sight of despite his added offensive responsibilities. Improving his average yards per kick return from 21.2 to 26.3, Pascal is once again the top returner on the team, and his blocking is as good - if not better - than year’s past.

“I have an ego,’’ Pascal explained in regards to his selfless nature of play. “But to make this team, you’ve got to throw that aside, you know? That’s what’s special. Anybody on this team is just like that.”

Head Coach Frank Reich also pointed out Pascal’s impressive mindset.

Ultimately, Pascal has thrived this season, far exceeding the limited expectations put in front of him to begin the season. And knowing his mindset and what he’s gone through, there’s little reason to think he’ll stop there.

Just ask Jerry Rice.