Colts Wide Receiver Analysis, Part One

Jerry Langton takes an in-depth look at the Colts wide receiver situation heading into the 2006 free agency and NFL Draft period. Don't miss the second part of this article which will be published on Saturday!

If there's any position where the Colts have wealth, it's wide receiver. In 2004, no fewer than three receivers caught passes for 1000 yards and 10 touchdowns apiece. Although the numbers were somewhat lower in 2005, the same trio — Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Brandon Stokley — still looked like the best in the league. The rest of the players at the position add experience (like Troy Walters, who has started and succeeded) and promise (like Roscoe Crosby, who has the physical attributes of an all-pro). Since the Colts agreed on a six-year deal with Wayne, it would appear that receiver will be a source of strength for quite some time.

Of course, stat guys like me love wide receivers. There are all kind of stats and, unlike many of those associated with defensive players, they're almost all meaningful. The most obvious is completion percentage, here's how the Colts stacked up in 2005:

Harrison caught 62.12 percent of all passes thrown to him
Wayne 68.03
Stokley 61.19
Walters 73.68
Moorehead 63.64

So, does Walters have hands significantly better than Harrison's? No. It's not really a fair stat. Harrison was the go-to guy, whether he was facing double-coverage or fifty yards downfield or both. Walters generally only got thrown to when he was uncovered or on the sweet side of a major mismatch.

Okay, how about yards after the catch? That's got to be important. Well, it is but the guy's got to catch the ball first. While Stokley piled up all kinds of extra yards, he makes his money on crossing patterns, on which he has a step on the defender if he gets open and is often covered by the opponent's third-best corner, a safety or even a linebacker.

Harrison 3.21 yards after the catch per reception
Wayne 3.80
Stokley 5.56
Walters 2.29
Moorehead 0.09

But there is one stat that can separate the All-Pros from the scrubs. If you divide the yards gained by how many times a receiver is thrown two, you can find out how far the team moves every time it trusts that player. Using that formula, they fall on a plot like this:

Harrison 8.68 yards per pass thrown at him
Wayne 8.65
Stokley 8.10
Walters 8.00
Moorehead 6.81

And that's about how they stack up in real life. Harrison is a touch better than Wayne, while Stokely is very good but a bit farther back. Walters is a bit behind Stokley, and Moorehead is well behind the top guys. The other receivers haven't really gotten a chance to play in the NFL but each shows enough promise to be retained for another camp.

Marvin Harrison
2005 playoff stats: 3-52-0 receiving
2005 regular-season stats: 82-1146-12 receiving, 1-10-0 punt return, 1 drop
2005 preseason stats: 9-83-1 receiving
2005 NFL Europe stats: None

Analysis: You want an analysis of Marvin Harrison? He's going to the Hall of Fame. You want specifics? He's lightning quick, deceptively fast and blessed with once-in-a-generation hands, agility, concentration and vision. Drawbacks? Only one, he's skinny. He can be thrown off his routes and really doesn't venture around the hashmarks all that often. That said, he's a tough guy who'll fight for the ball and can elude all but the best-planned tackles. His critics are probably right when they say that he's past his prime, but even a Harrison in decline — with his dedication, freedom from injury and lack of drama — is still a very enviable asset.

2006 status: Signed

Outlook: Target No. 1 — for both Manning and defenders — yet again.

Reggie Wayne
2005 playoff stats: 7-97-0 receiving
2005 regular-season stats: 83-1055-5 receiving, 1/0 fumbles/lost, 1-0-0 fumble recovery, 4 drops
2005 preseason stats: 6-99-2 receiving, 1/0 fumbles/lost
2005 NFL Europe stats: None

Analysis: It's interesting that for the past few years, Wayne and Harrison have had disturbingly similar stats. It's not that they're clones; far from it, they play very different games. Harrison has better hands, but Wayne sees more single coverage. Harrison runs deeper routes, but Wayne breaks more tackles and runs better after the catch. Although I don't think I'd put Wayne in Harrison's class, I would go on record as saying he's in the top 15 of all current NFL receivers.

2006 status: Agreed to new contract

Outlook: There were two schools of thought about Wayne's future. Most people were sure that the Colts were making every effort to sign him and would use the franchise tag on him to prevent him. Others said that the Colts, especially president Bill Polian, were simply posturing in an effort to trade Wayne much the same way the Bills did with Peerless Price. That logic, as floated by Pro Football Weekly, struck me as a bit of echo-chamber journalism (for those not in the know, that means someone comes up with an idea they think could work and others report it as fact later on). They didn't realize how important Wayne is to the Colts' offense, how the Colts are built around the overwhelming passing game, how Polian despises trading a sure thing for a gamble (Marshall Faulk notwithstanding) and they ignored the fact that, although they did get to sign a bunch of well-known defensive free agents, the Bills have not improved since the Price trade. Now that Wayne is back in the fold, he should continue to improve and could become one of the best receivers in the league.

Brandon Stokley
2005 playoff stats: 1-13-0 receiving
2005 regular-season stats: 41-543-1 receiving, 1 drop
2005 preseason stats: None
2005 NFL Europe stats: None

Analysis: While Stokley's 2005 stats may look like a failure after his 68-1077-10 in 2004, bear in mind that the decline in his numbers don't necessarily correlate to any decline on the player's part. With the Colts suffering pass-protection problems from Game 1, if not the preseason, they resorted to playing two-tight end sets much more often than they did the year before. Stokley can't catch passes when he's pacing the sideline. When he did play, Stokley played much as he had before, running precise routes, braving the middle and proving almost uncoverable by the third corners and safeties assigned to him.

2006 status: Signed

Outlook: While Stokley is certainly talented enough to start for almost any other NFL team, betting on him to be a replacement for Wayne if he left wouldn't be a great idea. Stokely puts up big numbers from the slot because he generally faces second-tier defensive backs and might not be quite as effective outside. Besides, in his pre-Indianapolis days Stokely worked outside for the Baltimore Ravens and was hampered by frequent injuries and inconsistencies. Even if Wayne did to move on, Stokley would have continued to work out of the slot. Now, with Wayne back in the fold, Stokley will be as effective as the Colts' pass protection allows him to be.

Check back on Saturday for part two of this article which will feature Jerry's analysis of the rest of the Colts wide receivers.

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