However, Stokley also became a fixture on the injury report. He was
constantly sidelined with a variety of ailments that frustrated him to no end
and eventually spelled his exit out of town and a modest contract with the
Healthy after spending four years in the Ravens' training room, Stokley has emerged as a critical, complementary cog in the Colts' offensive machine. He has posted a career-high 58 catches for 936 yards and nine touchdowns for the top-ranked passing game in the league.
"Finally, I can go out there and show my ability, show that I belong here," said Stokley, listed as questionable with a mild groin injury but slated to start Sunday against Baltimore. "I think being healthy, I can show everybody what I can do."
Now, Stokley in the slot is a popular destination for quarterback Peyton Manning's precision spirals.
He has registered 46 first downs, and has made double-teaming Marvin Harrison an ill-advised choice as Indianapolis has averaged an NFL-high 34.9 points per contest.
"When I got to the Colts, I remember saying Brandon Stokley would be the ultimate slot receiver in this offense," said Manning, who spent the past decade throwing to Stokley at the Manning family's football camp in Louisiana. "He's just been a perfect fit for our offense. He and I, for whatever reason just have no trouble developing timing.
"It's been a very easy transition. I've known Brandon for a long time and have always had a great relationship with him."
Stokley was always viewed as highly capable by the Ravens' coaching staff and scouts after being drafted in the fourth round in 1999 out of Southwestern Louisiana.
He just couldn't be counted on because of his iffy health, and was limited to 60 receptions in four seasons.
Ultimately, the Ravens declined to offer more than a one-year veteran minimum contract and Stokley departed.
"Obviously that was the issue here, he clearly had a injury history," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Brandon is a great young man and I'm thrilled that he has stayed healthy and is doing so well over there."
For most of last season, though, Stokley's pattern of injuries escalated.
Stokley underwent surgery to fuse together two bones in his foot in the off-season. Then, he sustained a hamstring injury in training camp that forced him out for nearly the entire first half of the season. A concussion forced him out of the lineup for four more games.
In December, Stokley's health improved markedly. And so did his production.
He caught 19 passes for 177 yards and three touchdowns in the final four regular-season games. In the playoffs, Stokley caught 11 passes for 223 yards and three touchdowns.
"It worked out great for us," Colts coach Tony Dungy said. "We liked him an awful lot. We didn't think it was a major injury risk. More than that, he's a guy that can function without being the focal point of the offense. He can play a whole game and only have one ball thrown to him and it doesn't affect him."
Undersized at 5-foot-11 and 197 pounds, Stokley runs outstanding routes and has a knack for eluding defenders after the catch. He averages 16.1 yards per reception.
"We all knew the talent he had when he was here," running back Jamal Lewis said. "He did the same things, he just didn't get the ball as much."
Stokley entered this season with career totals of 82 catches, 1,124 yards and 10 touchdowns.
His 2004 totals dwarf the production of the Ravens' top three wide receivers. Travis Taylor, Kevin Johnson and Clarence Moore have combined for just 82 receptions, 959 yards and five touchdowns.
Stokley has flourished, and people are noticing.
"Stokley has really made a name for himself," cornerback Gary Baxter said.
In 2001, Mike Nolan was the Ravens' wide receivers coach. Now, he's the defensive coordinator and will be devising schemes to limit Stokley's impact.
"I don't know that anybody runs routes as good as Brandon, and he's very strong in and out of the break," Nolan said. "He certainly made the right choice for him. I'm happy for him."
Stokley said he has no regrets from his time in Baltimore.
Especially not with a prized Super Bowl ring. Certainly, not with the way he connected with the fan base and teammates.
"I had a great time there," Stokley said. "There were some ups and downs and some disappointments with some injuries. I'll never forget my time there. I'm thankful for those four years."
NOTE: The Colts added cornerback Nick Harper (back) to the injury report with a probable listing.
As well as a being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.
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