Season in Review: Wide Receivers

The Colts had some unexpected turbulence at the wide receiver position in 2008, but the corps still had enough success to help lift Peyton Manning to an MVP season. Brad Keller takes a look at the season that was at wide receiver.

Season in Review:

Starters: Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne. Backups: Anthony Gonzalez, Roy Hall, Pierre Garcon.

Wayne had another Pro Bowl season and has officially stepped out of Harrison's shadow as the primary receiver in this passing attack.

WR Reggie Wayne made the catch of the year to beat the Texans
AP Photo/David J. Phillip

Harrison struggled to get open, fought the ball when he tried to catch it, and posted un-Harrison-like numbers of 60 receptions for 636 yards and five touchdowns.  He also appears to have lost a step off his deep speed.

Gonzalez continued to emerge, but didn't step into the production void left by Harrison, finishing behind him with 57 receptions and four touchdowns, but posting a better yards per catch average.

There may have been a changing of the guard in the playoff game against San Diego, though, as he posted six receptions for 97 yards compared to three catches for 20 yards for Harrison.

Garcon primarily contributed on special teams as a kick returner, but had only a 21.6 yards per return average.  Hall had only one reception for nine yards and missed most of the season with hamstring and knee injuries.

Wayne has developed an exceptional rapport with Peyton Manning and, had it not been for timing issues early in the season, would have finished with even more impressive numbers.  Even though opposing defenses are focused on taking Wayne out of the game, he continues to be productive.

Gonzalez has developed into a playmaker that can get deep, run in the open field after the catch or on a screen, and is becoming more comfortable with Manning and his pre-snap reads as the weeks go by.  If he is to replace Harrison, the Colts could do a lot worse in free agency, the draft, and on the roster as a whole.

Needs Improvement:

Depth. If Harrison continues to regress or is released — either through his salary cap savings or through mounting legal issues — Gonzalez can step in to replace Harrison, but there is no one on the roster or the practice squad that can fill Gonzalez's shoes.

If Gonzalez replaces Harrison, who replaces Gonzalez?
AP Photo/Denis Poroy

Hall is an injury risk and has been inconsistent when healthy and Garcon still needs to assimilate a lot of the offense and might not even be valuable enough as a returner to keep on the roster.

The base Indianapolis offense is three receivers and a tight end, or two receivers and two tight ends in a pinch — though the depth at tight end is a bit of a question mark as well — so they need a quality third receiver to run their offense effectively.

They had a quality third receiver in Gonzalez, but if he gets a bump to the X position, the Colts do not have a suitable replacement at Z.

What's Next?

Harrison's release seems imminent, if not assured, but Colts fans should not be too quick to jump to conclusions.  Bill Polian values history and production and Harrison has plenty of that.

The one thing that is certain is that Harrison needs to take a pay cut if he is to stay with Indianapolis. Whether he stays or not, the fact remains that the Colts need to bolster their depth at the wide receiver position.  With only a handful of receivers garnering a first round grade for the 2009 draft, Indianapolis will probably go with a best athlete available strategy in the first round, but need to come out of the first three rounds with a viable wide receiver candidate.

Garcon and Hall aren't going anywhere — even if they were to be let go, they would probably remain on the market long enough for Indianapolis to re-sign them if necessary — but they are also not the answer.

Lack of competition at the position has fostered a very lackadaisical attitude among the players currently on the roster.  A fresh draft choice, especially a second or third round selection, would heat things up and force players to put up or shut up.

The Colts will stay away from the TJ Houshmanzedah sweepstakes, even if they have the cap room to sign him.  He is not a good fit for the offense and will not provide the return on investment that the front office is looking for.

After Houshmanzedah, the free agent options at wide receiver become murky at best, so don't look for Indianapolis to pursue options outside their locker room or the draft.

The fact remains, though, that a viable replacement will need to be found.  Harrison's status with the team is tenuous at best and, if nothing else, the Colts will need to be ready to replace him should he take another step back.

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