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Grading the Colts roster ahead of 2020 NFL Draft and free agency: Wide Receiver

Carolina Panthers v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

A long off-season is upon us and while Chris Ballard and the Colts front office has plenty of time to work on rounding out the 2020 roster, Stampede Blue would like to take a pretty in-depth look at each position group and assign them letter grades.

The purpose of this exercise is to identify where the team stands at each position, based upon who is currently under contract. Re-signing in-house free agents could have a big impact on numerous grades but until that happens, we know what we know.

With that in mind, let’s dive in and discuss ways the team might move forward and share thoughts about what course of action makes the most sense.

Wide Receiver: D+

T.Y. Hilton remains the most important pass-catching option on the roster if the Colts wish to have a promising passing attack. He has struggled through injuries quite a bit since the back half of the 2018 season and that is concerning given that he is now over 30 years old. If he can kick the injury bug and spend more time on the field moving forward, whoever is at quarterback has a chance to succeed.

The problem is what lies behind Hilton on the depth chart. Free agent Devin Funchess saw his season end abruptly in Week 1 due to a fractured collarbone. Rookie Parris Campbell battled through injuries as much or more than Hilton and was unable to establish himself as a long-term option in the receiver’s room. Former undrafted free agent Chester Rogers has been a reliable, if not particularly exciting, punt returner but has shown little else since his early promise and rapport with Andrew Luck as a rookie. The best or perhaps most proven wide receivers behind Hilton are undrafted free agents Zach Pascal and Marcus Johnson.

That’s not encouraging.

Under Contract: T.Y. Hilton, Parris Campbell, Zach Pascal, Ashton Dulin, Steve Ishmael, Chad Williams, Malik Henry, Daurice Fountain (ERFA), Marcus Johnson (ERFA)

Possible Free Agent Options: A.J. Green, Devin Funchess, Amari Cooper, Robby Anderson, Dontrelle Inman, Chester Rogers, Phillip Dorsett

Draft Prospects: Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, Henry Ruggs III, Tee Higgins, Jalen Reagor, Justin Jefferson

Since future Hall of Fame wide receiver Reggie Wayne retired in 2016, the Colts have struggled to find a long-term option to complement T.Y. Hilton. What is somewhat surprising is the low level of attention the position has received in the draft since Wayne’s retirement.

The Colts did not select a wide receiver in the draft in 2016 or 2017. In 2018, Chris Ballard chose Reece Fountain in the 5th round and Deon Cain in the 6th. Finally, in 2019 the Colts used a late second round pick on Ohio State speedster Parris Campbell. Crazy to think that in four seasons and two front offices, only three selections have been used to find a long-term complement to T.Y. Hilton. Only one of those picks was on the second day of the draft.

What’s more, the free agent signing were not particularly big splashes over that time-frame. Kamar Aiken was signed in 2017 after he had a promising season in Baltimore. Ryan Grant was signed in 2018 as a possession receiver with the potential to make life easier for Andrew Luck in his return. The biggest free agent signing of the period was again in 2019 when Ballard spent $10M on young free agent Devin Funchess.

The question is where to go from here. Some have suggested that this is a historically talented wide receiver class, particularly in the first two or three rounds. The jury is out on where the team would look in free agency but, frankly, the only options that are particularly intriguing is a possible one-year return for Funchess, snagging Amari Cooper if he somehow manages to escape Dallas, or grabbing a big play receiver like Robby Anderson from the lowly Jets.

No matter how it happens, Ballard will need to round out the receiver room if he hopes to give Jacoby Brissett or his next quarterback a real chance to succeed.