As this season winds down for the Indianapolis Colts it's time to review the roster, position-by-position, as we attempt to quantify the team's needs in the offseason.
It is clear that the offensive and defensive lines along with the secondary need a complete overhaul. Past that it gets a bit hazy but there's one group that stands out as a liablity: wide receiver.
Before the year I identified this group as a potential weak link. I backtracked as T.Y. Hilton came on but as the season finished it has become clear the group isn't deep enough to provide Andrew Luck the target-rich environment he needs to excel. Reggie Wayne has excelled in the slot largely while Donnie Avery isn't cutting according to Philip B. Wilson of the Indianapolis Star:
Reg thrives in the slot — WR Reggie Wayne can line up anywhere and put up numbers. That’s why the Colts need to keep moving him around in three-wide sets with two speed guys outside and Wayne getting open from the slot. Even when teams effectively crowded the middle with zones, Wayne showed his great hands and came down with clutch catches. Luck realized practically from the first day in the league that No. 87 must be his No. 1 target. Wayne had 106 catches for 1,355 yards and five TDs. The Colts need to find another fast wideout to go with T.Y. Hilton outside — and Hilton it’s worth noting was a tremendous addition — so Wayne can continue to do what he does best. WR Donnie Avery had too many drops. It’s doubtful they bring him back. Perhaps WR LaVon Brazill can be more consistent and win that job. He's certainly got the speed.
Wilson is right: Avery has the reputation for drops. According to ProFootballFocus the reputation is accurate: Avery dropped 12 passes on 112 targets. Of the 112 balls tossed his way PFF estimates 72 were catchable giving Avery a drop rate of 16.67%. Among receivers with 50 or more targets he was 77th in drop rate. In fact T.Y. Hilton didn't fare much better as both finished in the bottom in drop rate
That's bad but it's but the story doesn't end at drops. He also played a full schedule, something considered unlikely for a player that missed all of 2010 and only played 8 games in 2011 before managing to play in all 16 games this year. Despite playing in those games he missed most of the preseason and was injured late in the season. He was quite viable given the lack of depth at receiver and had his moments.
Still calling Avery's upside anything but mixed would be a mistake. Don't forget his memorable game-winner in Detroit, something Josh Wilson of Stampede Blue considered the best play of the year, when you consider his drops. Considering his speed it's also clear that he provides the kind of vertical threat opposite Hilton that opens up the seams for tight ends and the slot receiver. Likewise, his drop in Sunday's playoff game against the Ravens came at a key moment in the red zone and absolutely doomed the drive. He also In short, he's a speedy health risk with bad hands and the ability to make some stellar plays–a mixed bag at best.
To further complicate the scenario this was Avery's best season as a pro and will likely test the free agent waters as a result. His one-year deal with the Colts may be extended given the abundance of cap space and relatively shallow pool of talent on the offensive and defensive lines available. It's likely he will attempt to find a spot where he can be a true #2 receiver and not share catches with the likes of Hilton, Wayne, Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen and possibly LaVon Brazill.
On the other side of the table the list of notable receivers hitting the open market as unrestricted free agents is impressive. Guys like Mike Wallace, Greg Jennings, Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Wes Welker and Dwayne Bowe are available. Even return specialists like Josh Cribb are tempting additions. In fact, the talent is deep enough at receiver that the Colts should think twice before attempting to lock up Avery.
Despite the tempting speed and ability to come up big on occasion the Colts should let Donnie Avery test the free agency waters and look for a solution to their receiving woes elsewhere.