098 LeVon Brazill Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports

Training Camp Preview: Wide Receivers

In a little over a month, the Colts will head up I-69 to Anderson, Indiana for Training Camp in the brutal July and August heat.  Football, or at least a huge lot of football practice, is drawing nearer.  In the meantime, we’re going to preview some potential camp battles.  Is it too early to start examining the epic drama of training camp and the competitions for those last few roster spots?  Probably.  But that’s just how much we all miss football around here. 

Today, we’re tackling wide receiver, where the potential exists for six players, all of whom possess decent to very good potential, to be fighting for one roster spot. 

To begin, let’s look at the receivers on the roster right now (from Colts.com), with the players who will be battling for the last roster spot in red and those who’s places are safe in blue:

No.

 

 

Ht.

Wt.

Age

Exp.

College

15

Brazill, LaVon

WR

5-11

191

24

2

Ohio

81

Heyward-Bey, Darrius

WR

6-2

216

26

5

Maryland

13

Hilton, T.Y.

WR

5-9

183

23

2

Florida International

84

Kelley, Jeremy

WR

6-6

225

25

R

Maine

10

Palmer, Nathan

WR

5-11

195

24

2

Northern Illinois

11

Rumble, Rodrick

WR

6-2

201

23

R

Idaho State

16

Sambrano, Jabin

WR

5-11

175

23

1

Montana

14

Sampson, Lanear

WR

5-11

205

22

R

Baylor

87

Wayne, Reggie

WR

6-0

198

34

13

Miami (Fla.)

17

Whalen, Griff

WR

5-11

185

23

2

Stanford


The First Four

The Colts currently have ten wide receivers on their 90-man roster.  Last year’s final roster had five (Wayne, Donnie Avery, Hilton, Brazill, Palmer), with the promising but raw Kris Adams (Now with the NY Giants) on the practice squad. 

Each time this group, who aside from Reggie Wayne has an average NFL experience of 1.4 years, practices together or attends a meeting, they must know that only half of them are going to be on the team in September. 

Further dimming the hopes for prospects like Jeremy Kelley and the awesomely named Rodrick Rumble is the fact that 3-4 players are virtual locks to make the team.  Only an injury or unforeseen disaster can displace Reggie Wayne or free agent pickup Darrius Heyward-Bey.  Wayne is an unquestioned team leader, and DHB, like most high profile free agent signings, will be given more than just a training camp to prove himself if he struggles early. 

The two 2012 draftees, T.Y. Hilton and LaVon Brazill, have a leg up on the competition as well.  As drafted players each entering their second season, it would take some astounding play from the group of camp hopefuls to unseat them. 

Hilton had a strong season, catching 50 passes on 91 targets for 861 yards and 7 touchdowns and returned 26 punts for 300 yards and a touchdown.  An explosive player with the potential to be even better this year, Hilton is an obvious safe bet to make the roster and contribute extensively in the slot, but he will need to be considerably more sure-handed than he was as a rookie. 

LaVon Brazill, a 6th round pick from 2012, is the wild card.  He still has a slight advantage over the remaining young receivers, but not as much as Hilton does.  Brazill played sparingly on offense last season, coming up with just 11 catches on 24 targets for 186 yards and one very important touchdown – a 42 yarder late in a dramatic comeback win over Detroit. 

Brazill’s spot looks safe as long as no more than one of the other six receivers has a breakout preseason.  If two or more start looking like solid contributors, someone may stand a chance of unseating Brazill.  Such is the nature of pro football. 

 

The Other Six

That leaves six players battling for one, maybe two spots, in no particular order: Jeremy Kelly, Jabin Sambrano, Nathan Palmer, Rodrick Rumble, Lanear Sampson, and fan favorite Griff Whalen. 

- Jeremy Kelley  One name that truly jumps off the page is, of course, the hard working Jeremy Kelley, what with his being a behemoth and all.  At 6-6, 225, with a 4.55-second 40 time (respectable for a possession guy), Kelley stands out as a prospect, at least until his stats come up.  He totaled 19 receptions for 231 yards and 7 touchdowns last year for the AFL’s Utah Blaze (in half a season), not bad for a project player, but not exactly world-beater numbers. 

Kelley is working hard to become more than just a tall guy who happens to play football.  If he can run crisp routes and hang on to the ball, he could become a great fit for Indy’s West Coast based offense.  A big smart guy like him coming over the middle to move the chains could be a big help in certain situations. 

Jeremy Kelly AFL highlights – Kelley’s weaknesses must be in the route-running department.  He’s a one-hand catch machine with a mean streak taking on DB’s:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pio0EwPYFz0

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UxYmTG3S3sw

 

- Jabin Sambrano  Sambrano played some for the Colts in the preseason last year, but ended up on the injured reserve in late August.  According to Colts.com, he was waived in September and made his way onto the Buccaneers’ practice squad late in the season. 

As a senior at Montana, Sambrano led his team with 632 yards and 10 touchdowns, while scoring four more in the return game, earning first team All-Big Sky Conference honors as a kick returner – something that could help him earn a job with Indianapolis. 

Though he plays big (check the highlights), Sambrano is a bit undersized, and his 40-time at his pro day was only 4.50.  With his size limitations, he needs to prove that he’s faster than his measurables on the field and possibly outshine a couple smallish running backs in the return game to make his case for a roster spot. 

Montana vs. Weber State highlights – Watch for #16 and check out Sambrano’s one-handed catch in the corner of the endzone around the 1:00 mark: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dAwAznir8_M

Montana vs. Idaho State – Our man Sambrano makes a circus catch just about 23 seconds in: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OnUxrDujS9g

 

- Nathan Palmer  Nathan “NaPalm” Palmer of Elkhart, Indiana and former NIU teammate of third string QB Chandler Harnish, began his career as an undrafted free agent with San Francisco last year before the Colts signed him off the 49ers practice squad in September. 

Palmer only started 5 games as a senior (47 rec, 695 yds, 7 TDs) on a Northern Illinois team that featured a running quarterback (Harnish), and as with all but one in this group, didn’t work out at the NFL Combine. 

His pro day 40-time (4.34), 37-inch vertical jump, and ability to run after the catch are intriguing though.  Palmer will have to build upon those things and show a willingness to tackle on special teams, since he isn’t known as a returner.  It’s hard not to pull for the guy from Indiana trying to make the Colts, and oh yes, those speed measurables are no fluke. 

NaPalm highlights, sooo faaaast, and so very intense (apologies for the profane music): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pEtQyqE3_1o

 

- Rodrick Rumble  If the Colts are to pick a player based solely on having a cool name, this is their guy.  He sounds like a character in an underdog sports movie. 

Idaho State’s all-time leading receiver (223 rec, 2863 yds, 17 TDs) is a tall, rangy player who can snag some high passes.  He doesn’t look like he’d be especially fast, and doesn’t measure as such (4.59 40 at his pro day), but Rumble managed to get behind the defense and absolutely dust a few Big Sky Conference corners in college. 

Whether he has enough speed to gain separation in the NFL is a story yet to be told.  While he wouldn’t have been an obvious fit in Bruce Arians’ vertical offense last year, Rumble (R-r-r-r-r-rumble) has the height and size to be a guy who moves the sticks in a precision, “No Coast” offense. 

Rodrick Rumble college highlights (Sorry, they’re blurry. Beggars can’t be choosers): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kmex6n5aQY4

 

- Lanear Sampson  Baylor’s Lanear Sampson didn’t see many targets last season as teammate Terrance Williams, now with the Cowboys, racked up 97 receptions for 1832 yards and 12 TDs, but he managed to eke out 646 yards and 6 TDs on 52 catches. 

There are no questions about Sampson’s speed.  The young receiver posted a 4.46-second 40-yard dash at the scouting combine, similar to Pierre Garçon’s official time, and a 4.38 at his pro day.  Although he isn’t very tall at 5-11, Sampson also has good strength for the position, which should help him when he’s fighting through contact from NFL corners and catching in traffic. 

Lanear Sampson has fine top end speed, and looks like a better fit in a vertical passing game, but he can also be very tough and physical.  He’ll need to prove he can accelerate better, make good cuts, and use his strength to adapt to catching more passes over the middle in Indy. 

Scouting video of Lanear Sampson (#3), This kid has a nasty streak on the field that I like: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UoZX_Ywxtoo

 

- Griff Whalen  Andrew Luck’s teammate who led Stanford in receiving yards his senior season has played the underdog for quite a while now.  A high school defensive back/quarterback who was too short to play QB at the next level and wasn’t heavily recruited to play DB, Whalen decide to take his chances as a walk on at Stanford. 

Whalen moved to wide receiver with the Cardinal, and the new position suited him well.  After appearing in one game his freshman year, Whalen had modest success for two seasons before breaking out his senior year with 56 catches, 4 touchdowns, and a team-leading 749 yards. 

At Stanford’s pro day, Whalen had a great shuttle time (4.06 – good news for his agility) but his 4.55-second 40-yard dash didn’t impress for a guy his size.  Whalen went undrafted and joined his higher profile Stanford teammates in Indy.  In his first preseason game, he had a surprising 8 catches for 66 yards before aggravating a foot injury from college and winding up on IR. 

Whalen will be working to show coaches and teammates that his one NFL preseason game was not an anomaly.  He doesn’t have the big build of a West Coast offense receiver, but that never stopped him at Stanford.  And now, he’ll be playing in Pep Hamilton’s offense all over again. 

There is very little video of Whalen, despite his playing for a high profile school.  If anyone has some highlights other than 12-second touchdown clips, please link them in the comments. 

 

Overview

Make way for Reggie, DHB, Hilton, and possibly Brazill.  The other six receivers are fighting for a chance to play in the NFL, and four or five of them are going to have to take their dream elsewhere.  There isn’t much playing time on offense at stake, but the competition will be intense. 

I’m not picking favorites this early, though there are a couple I really like.  The real answer will come in the July and August heat at training camp when the coaches finally get to see what these guys can do in a game. 

 

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Marcus Dugan

About Marcus Dugan

Marcus is a husband, dad, twitter aficionado, and life-long Hoosier who became a casual Colts fan in the early 90s before going all-in during the 8-8 '94 season. He covers news, game recaps, and additional offseason material for The Colts Authority and works as a real estate broker west of Indianapolis.

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