Season in Review: Wide Receivers

Marvin Harrison missed 11 games with a knee injury, so it was up to the rest of the wide receivers to step up and fill the void. Reggie Wayne certainly stepped up, but Harrison won't be around forever and someone needs to fill his shoes.

Starters: Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne.

Backups: Anthony Gonzalez, Aaron Moorehead, Devin Aromashodu, Craphonso Thorpe, Roy Hall, Trent Shelton, Onrea Jones, Courtney Roby.

Season In Review:

Harrison obviously had a disappointing year, missing more games in 2007 (11) than he had over the course of his entire career previously — he missed a total of four games his first 11 seasons in the NFL — and registered career lows in receptions (20), yards (247), and touchdowns (one).  Wayne and rookie Anthony Gonzalez, who was pressed into service earlier than most had expected, picked up most of the slack with some assistance from TE Dallas Clark

Hall and Moorehead ended the season on injured reserve, Shelton and Jones ended it on the practice squad, Roby was signed to a "future contract" for the 2008 season after bouncing on and off the practice squad, and Aromashodu started the 2007 season with the Houston Texans.


Anthony Gonzalez had an impressive rookie year as the Colts' slot receiver
Chris Graythen/Getty

The three starters — Harrison and Wayne on the outside, and Gonzalez in the slot — are set for next season, as Harrison is almost assuredly coming back for a 13th year and should be at full strength after resting his knee during the year.

Gonzalez gained valuable experience and familiarity with QB Peyton Manning and Wayne discovered that he has what it takes to be the "go-to" guy in the Indianapolis offense.  Manning's production and the production of the passing game did not suffer, despite Harrison's absence, as the Colts finished sixth in the NFL in passing yards per game and Manning tallied up only his fourth season of 30+ touchdown passes.

Strengths:

With a healthy and rejuvenated Harrison in 2008, Indianapolis will have one of the most explosive and talented trios of receivers in the NFL.  Add in Clark and the fact that Manning is one of the greatest quarterbacks of this era and it is easy to see this passing offense as a top-10 unit again next season.

Though Wayne and Gonzalez do not have the level of timing and familiarity with Manning that Harrison has, they made huge strides this season and will seek to improve on that aspect of their game in OTAs, minicamps, and training camp.

In addition to the experience and confidence that Gonzalez and Wayne gained in 2007, both men also displayed the flexibility to line up all over the formation, with Wayne often lining up in the slot to create match-up problems.  Had Harrison been 100 percent and able to finish the playoff game against the Chargers, the ability to use Wayne and Gonzalez as interchangeable parts would have paid huge dividends.  Look for the Colts to take full advantage of this newfound malleability in 2008, making an already dangerous offensive squad that much more deadly.

Needs Improvement:

After the starting three, the depth at the receiver position is questionable at best.  Moorehead, Thorpe, and Aromashodu, and Hall have a combined 50 career receptions, Moorehead and Hall now have injury histories, and Thorpe and Aromashodu have proven themselves to be inconsistent at best and liabilities at worst.


Aaron Moorehead ended the season on injured reserve
Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Though they were able to withstand the injury to Harrison this season, Indianapolis will not have the same results and success next season with this level of depth on their roster.

While some of these men may be able to contribute on special teams in 2008 — especially Thorpe who has flashed some explosiveness on punt and kickoff returns — a team like the Colts needs a talented starting three and at least two quality backups.  Special teamers and role players are not sufficient and will not be sustainable for long periods of time without a huge drop off in production.

Indianapolis was able to be productive in the second half of the season in large part because of the level of competition they faced.  For an example of how these backups would fare against a quality defense, one need look no further than the season finale against Tennessee, when the reserves were pressed into service and proved to be largely ineffective.

What's Next?:

Given the fact that Indianapolis has a considerable financial investment tied up in Harrison, Wayne, and Gonzalez and the three men are signed for the long term, it is unrealistic to expect the Colts to make a splash in free agency by signing another big name wide-out.  However, there are will be some talented second and third-tier players available, such as return specialists Tim Dwight and Eddie Drummond, slot receivers Troy Walters and Antonio Chatman, and veterans such as David Patten, Andre Davis, and Eric Moulds.

For a modest investment, Indianapolis could be able to sign two of these gentlemen and increase competition in training camp.

Since the starting three are all first-round selections, it would seem to make sense for the Colts to look at the position with their first pick, a second-rounder in this year's NFL Draft.  However, needs at other positions, the availability of free agents, and the steep learning curve that seems to affect most rookies at the receiver position points to Indianapolis either ignoring the position in April or drafting someone late in the second day.

A speedy rookie with the size (around 6 feet, 200 pounds) that Indianapolis looks for in the position would be a good bet in the sixth or seventh round, but it would be unrealistic to expect to find someone that would be able to contribute in the return game, as Devin Hester and others in recent years have placed a premium on that ability when it comes to the draft.

Overall, the Colts are well-positioned, but that certainly does not mean they can rest on their laurels, because, as this season proved, you never know when the injury bug is going to strike.


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