Earlier this week, I wrote a piece on which bargain bin free agent defensive ends the Colts could pursue this year. With free agency right around the corner and the Colts’ need at receiver, I figured we should take a look at a few under-the-radar options here as well.
I know most Colts fans would be upset if T.Y. Hilton departs and Chris Ballard doesn’t sign a big name to replace him, but I would say that we should all brace for that very real possibility. In his tenure with the Colts, Ballard has signed three free agent receivers in four years. Those players are Kamar Aiken, Ryan Grant, and Devin Funchess, none of which would be considered a success.
Does Ballard change up his philosophy with those three misses? Does he look for a true number one guy if Hilton leaves? Maybe. We will certainly find out in a few weeks. However, in the event that Ballard sticks to more of a low-cost approach to wide receiver in free agency, here are four underrated players that I think he could be interested in.
1.) Isaiah McKenzie, WR, Bills
Could the hero of Indianapolis be an option in free agency? With the Colts’ playoff hopes on the line in week 17 of the regular season, the Colts needed the Bills to defeat the Dolphins to stay alive. The Bills ended up blowing the Dolphins out behind three touchdowns (two receiving and one punt return) by McKenzie. From that moment on he was hailed a hero, at least until the Bills beat the Colts in the wildcard round the next week.
McKenzie is an interesting player because it is very easy to see the fit in Indy. The Colts used UDFA DeMichael Harris in a similar way as a gadget player with deep speed. Parris Campbell was supposed to be the legit player in this role but after missing a majority of his NFL career, it is hard to count on him at this moment. Bringing in McKenzie would give Indy yet another legit special teamer who can fill that offensive role and provide a spark for the offense. Bring in all the speed for this offense.
Remember how the Colts used DeMichael Harris last season? Imagine that but with Isaiah McKenzie next year. Gadget type player with field stretching ability and a special teams contributor. Would be a really interesting fit with Reich and this offense pic.twitter.com/K90F18dnaO— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) March 2, 2021
2.) Keelan Cole, WR, Jaguars
Admittedly, this one is more my preference than the type of player that Ballard may go after. Cole has been an underrated player for years and doesn’t really get the recognition for it. He never truly took that next step after his outstanding rookie year in 2017 but he has developed into a capable receiver with a lot to like in his game.
Last year, Cole was one of the primary targets in one of the worst offenses in football. He still was able to finish with 642 yards receiving and five touchdowns and a passer rating of 104.6 when targeted. He is a polished receiver with precise route running and head fakes that can also climb the ladder and make plays down the field. He is also tough as nails over the middle of the field and wins easily in that area. He may not be a juiced-up vertical threat but bringing another polished route runner into this offense wouldn’t hurt at all.
I've always been a big fan of Keelan Cole. Tough player who runs precise routes and can go up and get the ball. I'd happily take him in Indy pic.twitter.com/aB2ly7wUe9— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) March 3, 2021
3.) David Moore, WR, Seattle
Moore is one of the most interesting receivers in the league. When he is having a good game, he looks like an extremely promising young receiver with a ton of upside. Unfortunately, inconsistencies plagued him in Seattle and he was never truly able to take that next step forward. Some of that is due to being behind DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett but it is what is likely leading to his departure here in the offseason. Still, he did put up 418 yards receiving and six touchdowns as a third receiver.
Looking at the bright side though, I think Moore could thrive as a niche player in a place like Indy. He has good size and is athletic enough to climb the ladder and make difficult catches in traffic. He is also an outstanding receiver in the red zone as he excels at finding space in the short area of the field. If a team tries to make him an all-around receiver, I could see him not lasting long at his next destination. However, if used as a vertical/red zone receiver, I could see an effective role for the young receiver.
One of personal favorite free agent targets for the Colts is WR David Moore from Seattle. Bigger receiver who can climb the ladder and excel in the red zone. More of a niche player who has inconsistencies, but I like him as a cheap vertical threat for Indy: pic.twitter.com/96aKzOL5fp— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) March 2, 2021
4.) Rashard Higgins, WR, Browns
This is roughly my third year in a row wanting Higgins to end up in a Colts’ uniform. He has dealt with inconsistencies and a fractured relationship with former Head Coach Freddie Kitchens in his time in Cleveland. However, every time he had a chance to prove his worth, he did. He stepped up big time once Odell Beckham Jr went down last year and had a career-high of 715 receiving yards and four touchdowns.
Now, it is likely that Higgins returns to Cleveland, as there is mutual interest to get a deal done. However, if he does hit the market, I’d love for the Colts to pursue him. He is a polished receiver who can play in the slot or outside. He has a crazy catch radius and runs pretty precise routes as well. He would be an excellent complement to a developing Michael Pittman Jr. on this offense.
Rashard Higgins, yet again, is a guy I want in Indy. He likely ends back up in Cleveland but he has always produced when given a shot. Good route runner with a big catch radius. Only 26 years old. I want pic.twitter.com/CEalSfIUeM— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) March 2, 2021
I hope that Chris Ballard signs a big-name receiver this offseason. Seeing a player like Chris Godwin, Allen Robinson, or even Curtis Samuel in this offense would be an absolute blast as a fan of the team. However, Ballard’s history doesn’t suggest that he will go that route. Could he change up his philosophy this year? Sure, but I wouldn’t entirely count on it.
These players may not be game-changers, but they would be solid additions to an offense that just needs more playmakers right now. I think any of these receivers would fit well in this Colts’ system and give Carson Wentz another weapon to utilize in the passing game.