Colts Wide Receiver Analysis, Part Two

Jerry Langton continues his analysis of the Colts wide receiver situation heading into the 2006 season. After reviewing the top three yesterday, Jerry provides you with his analysis of the rest of the pack.

Part two of Jerry's analysis reviews the balance of the wide receiver talent that was on the Colts roster in 2005.

Troy Walters
2005 playoff stats: 2-(-2)-0 punt returns, 1/0 fumbles/lost
2005 regular-season stats: 14-152-3 receiving, 21-172-0 punt returns, 1-13-0 kick return
2005 preseason stats: 5-81-0 receiving, 4-24-0 punt returns, 1 tackle
2005 NFL Europe stats: None

Analysis: After signing a one-year contract for not a great deal of cash ($540,000), Walters gave the Colts what he had for the previous few seasons — some pretty good work as the team's fourth receiver and some safe, if somewhat mundane, efforts on punt returns. Looking at the tape, though, it appeared as though almost all of Walters' receptions happened when he was uncovered or matched up against some slow-footed linebacker. But if that linebacker or the fourth-best corner he lined up against managed to lay a decent chuck on him, Walters was as good as out of the play. His stats are more a testament to Tom Moore's creativity than his own ability. That said, he does have outstanding hands, less fear than his size would indicate and decent, if not blinding, speed. As a punt returner, though, he was something of a disappointment. He came within two fair catches of setting a new NFL record and actually waved off more than he fielded. When he did run them back, he instilled little fear in his opponents and little hope in the Colts' fans.

2006 status: Unrestricted free agent

Outlook: Lots has been made of Walters' family ties with the Colts' coaching staff, and many say that he's an untouchable because of it. Maybe, maybe not. While Walters is about as talented as any fourth receiver in the league, he's not the punt returner the Colts need. Should the team decide that they must have a home run threat at the position, Walters could be in trouble. But fans eager to wave good-bye to the veteran may not get their wish right away.

Aaron Moorehead
2005 playoff stats: None
2005 regular-season stats: 7-75-0 receiving, 1 drop
2005 preseason stats: 8-93-0 receiving, 1/1 fumbles/lost, 1 tackle
2005 NFL Europe stats: None

Analysis: In limited action, Moorehead has shown some flashes but has generally looked somewhat overmatched and even nervous in the NFL. As you'd think from a guy his size (6030, 200), he's really more of a possession guy than a speedster, but he really hasn't got the possession part down yet. While Moorehead does have good-enough hands, he hasn't shown the ability to slip off chucks, get open with consistency or hold his own over the middle — even in preseason. Although he has shown flashes of outstanding play and still could develop, he's entering his fourth NFL season with just 15 receptions to his credit.

2006 status: Restricted free agent tendered at the lowest tier, allowing the Colts to match any offer for his services.

Outlook: The Colts like Moorehead and have been well impressed with his work ethic and ability to understand the offense. But he's been stuck on the bench — all of his playing time in 2005 came after home-field advantage was secured and the unbeaten streak was over — and adds very little on special teams. Moorehead's return will depend on what happens with the players further up the depth chart than him, but I certainly wouldn't depend on a roster spot if I were in his place.

Brad Pyatt
2005 playoff stats: None
2005 regular-season stats: None
2005 preseason stats: 5-68-1 receiving, 8-170-0 kick returns, 11-78-0 punt returns
2005 NFL Europe stats: None

Analysis: Pyatt came out of nowhere (actually Northern Colorado) in 2003 to win the Colts' kick return job. Not only did he do okay; but he actually led the league in average, just slightly ahead of Dante Hall in his best-ever season. A supplemental draft reject, Pyatt brought size, courage and blistering speed to the position. His vision was just ordinary and his abilities as a receiver were, to put it kindly, largely undeveloped. But it didn't matter, he was a flash on returns as a rookie and looked like another Colts gem. But then injuries struck. Pyatt came back with a so-so year in 2004 and missed the 2005 season entirely. When he did play in 2004 and in the 2005 preseason, he didn't look like the same daredevil Colts fans adored in 2003.

2006 status: Unrestricted free agent since the Colts apparently didn't give him a contract tender

Outlook: Pyatt's likely to be re-signed in hopes that he can regain his 2003 form, unless some other team falls in love with him. It's unlikely he's progressed much as a receiver — although he has potential — but he could prove his worth again as a return specialist, especially if Dominic Rhodes and/or Walters are let go. Unfortunately the Colts are more direly in need of a punt returner and Pyatt is much better bringing back kicks. His long-striding, straight-linish style works better in open space, especially when he can build up a little steam. The Colts will give Pyatt every opportunity to win a spot as a returner and a receiver, but he'll have to convince them he can play with the controlled abandon he did as a rookie.

John Standeford
2005 playoff stats: None
2005 regular-season stats: None
2005 preseason stats: 14-142-1 receiving
2005 NFL Europe stats: None

Analysis: Even as he was setting records at Purdue, most NFL observers were doubting Standeford's pro prospects. He put up big numbers, they said, because he had excellent hands, ran precise routes, had a good rapport with his quarterback and used his size to outmuscle defensive backs. But, they pointed out, his lack of speed and agility would be more evident and costly in the NFL and he'd find pro defensive backs far tougher, quicker and more determined than those he faced in college. So far, the critics have been right. Although Standeford can catch pretty well anything thrown his way if he's open, getting open has been a problem. He put up some decent numbers in preseason, but mostly by getting rich off third- and fourth-string defensive backs.

2006 status: Signed

Outlook: The Colts would love to have a dependable red zone target with height, but Standeford has to show much more than he has to earn any meaningful playing time. While the team may be willing to put up with his subpar speed, if Standeford wants to stick as a possession receiver, he needs to show more toughness, an ability to create yards after the catch and a better sense of when his quarterback needs him to alter his route. Not being able to add much on special teams doesn't boost his stock very much. As it stands, he's competing primarily with Moorehead, a very similar player.

Roscoe Crosby
2005 playoff stats: None
2005 regular-season stats: None
2005 preseason stats: None
2005 NFL Europe stats: None

Analysis: For the few of you who don't know the Roscoe Crosby story, here's a brief summary: a) came out of high school as the second-highest ranked offensive prospect behind Kevin Jones (later a first-round draft pick and currently Detroit's starting halfback), b) showed outstanding ability as a frosh at Clemson, c) injuries, an ill-fated attempt at pro baseball and a serious car accident pushed the delete key on the rest of his college career, d) snubbed in the supplemental draft, he signed with the Colts and spent the year on and off the practice squad. If you look at Crosby workout, you'd think he was designed to be a wide receiver, he has great size, speed, skills and hands — and ridiculous agility and body control. Best of all, he showed elusiveness, strength and determination after the catch when he did play college ball. That said, he still needs to learn how to play competitive football, because he hasn't really played much since 2003.

2006 status: Signed

Outlook: The Colts planned to send Crosby to Rhein of the NFL Europe to see how he'd fare under live game conditions. But before the teams headed overseas, the Colts and Crosby switched plans, keeping him stateside. He'll work with the Colts during their full offseason workouts and camps. Crosby's full of confidence, but needs some playing time to prove that he can stick in the NFL. He'll likely get a chance to show that primarily as a returner in 2006.

Montiese Culton
2005 playoff stats: None
2005 regular-season stats: None
2005 preseason stats: 6-99-0 receiving
2005 NFL Europe stats: None

Analysis: While he was truly productive at Tulsa, Culton was not viewed as a truly desirable pro prospect because of his quotidian speed and skinny frame. But of the passel of rookie receivers the Colts brought to camp in 2005, Culton was the most productive in preseason and flashed some real skill. He's pretty much what you'd expect, if he's not knocked off his route, he can get behind the secondary with regularity and has hands good enough to get most of what's thrown his way. He's got some leaping ability, but isn't really strong enough to come down with jump balls when he's up against a determined defensive back.

2006 status: Signed

Outlook: Culton's in a good spot, really. Nobody really expects much of him, but he could win a roster spot if he has a productive camp and preseason. Posts, curls and slants are his bread-and-butter, and if he shows he's got home run capability, he has an outside shot at a roster spot. He'd have a much better chance if he did anything on special teams or could show some skill on crossing patterns.

Dan Sheldon
2005 playoff stats: None
2005 regular-season stats: None
2005 preseason stats (with Arizona): 1-2-0 receiving, 4-40-0 punt returns, 1-8-0 kick returns
2005 NFL Europe stats: None
Analysis: Every once in a while, a guy beats the odds — and that's what Sheldon is banking on. Although he was superproductive at Northern Illinois, he was considered too darn small to play in the NFL. Seriously, this guy is a blip on the radar screen not just because of his speed, but also because of his minute size. But Sheldon has other attributes, including quickness, toughness, leaping ability and startlingly good hands.

2006 status: Signed

Outlook: Sheldon couldn't be in a better situation. Not only does Indianapolis have a crying need for a punt returner with the ability to frighten opponents, but it also has an offense that can employ a small wideout and mask his deficiencies. While Sheldon failed in his 2005 attempt to make the Cardinals' roster, keep in mind they are a wide receiver-rich team with a simpler offense and an entrenched punt returner. Sheldon, it would seem, is in a cat-bird seat. If he breaks a few, doesn't fumble or drop the ball, he could be the next offensive star in Indianapolis. But if he muffs a couple or can't prove he can get off the line smoothly, he could be the next Paul Miranda.

Bottom line
Now that Wayne is back with the team, the Colts should have no problem with their top three wide receivers, if they all stay healthy. As far as the other spots — Nos. 4 and 5 on the roster, the practice squad and any others kept in close contact — the competition should be fierce and entertaining. A source told me that the Colts would be very happy to see Sheldon, a long distance scoring threat, and Crosby, a potential dominator, succeed.

New blood could be acquired through the draft or free agency, but I don't see a significant signing or first-day pick unless the team thinks Harrison is farther along in his eventual decline than he appears to be. A productive (perhaps small-school) guy, especially one who can return punts with authority, could definitely be added on the second day or after the draft. Wyoming's Jovon Bouknight is the kind of natural runner who could be worth a modest investment and Fresno State's Adam Jennings is maybe a notch or two behind.


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