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Colts Wide Receiver Options: If Not Heyward-Bey, Then Who?

(John E Sokolowski USA Today Sports)

After Darrius Heyward-Bey left both Indianapolis and Detroit without a contract, fans of the Colts and Lions alike are left to ponder what other options remain, should DHB (or, in Colts land, Whopper Jr. – Thanks, Mr. Irsay) sign somewhere else.  According to Dave Brikett of the Detroit Free Press, DHB is using his flight home to think about what to do. They also reported that DHB thinks he would be a great fit for the Lions’ offense.

Although Heyward-Bey and Matthew Stafford know each other and share the same agent, the Colts have an advantage in the whole situation: winning.  Since 2009, Indianapolis has gone 37-27, while Detroit has been 22-42.  The organizations are complete opposites in that regard, with the 2011 season being Indy’s first losing season in a decade while the same year was the Lions’ first winning campaign since 2000 and first double digit win total in 15 years.  It’s likely neither team made an offer he liked very much, given his shaky career numbers, but if Heyward-Bey wants to be a part of a winning organization, the Colts are the clear-cut choice.

Nevertheless, we’re going to look at a few notable names remaining on the market along with three intriguing draft prospects.

Free Agent WR Prospects

Added after Publication by Popular Demand, Brandon Lloyd:

Brandon Lloyd, Patriots (6-0, 200, 31 yrs. Old):  Lloyd has never been blazing fast.  He has had to play the role of a possession receiver, catching in traffic without the prototypical long build for his playing style.  Yet, somehow, he manages to be productive.  Last season, Lloyd caught 74 of his 130 targets for 911 yards, 4 touchdowns, and a respectable 12.3-yard average.  Nevertheless, the Patriots do not want him back for another season. Would adding Brandon Lloyd to the Colts raise their odds to make the playoffs?

Lloyd’s catch rate, however, was 57%, 6% below Tom Brady’s completion percentage.  His career average is only 49%.  Lloyd isn’t a deep threat, but more of a possession-type receiver.  So, the lower catch rate is a concern, especially considering the elite, accurate quarterback he was playing with.

With the low career catch rate, Lloyd looks a bit like a slow Donnie Avery.  But, he is a smart player who can make the circus catch in traffic, though some say it’s because he struggles to get separation.  If the Colts sign Lloyd, he is clearly not the long-term answer, but he could be a placeholder for an unpolished rookie receiver who needs to come off the bench for a year.

David Nelson, Buffalo Bills (6-5, 214, 26 yrs. old): Nelson had a good start to his career in Buffalo, improving over his first two seasons, before suffering a torn ACL last September.  The Bills have been cutting ties with the former regime, and one of those ties is Nelson, who, according to Adam Schefter, should be ready to play in time for training camp.

In 2011, Nelson caught 61 of 98 passes for 658 yards and 2 touchdowns.  His catch rate was right in line with Ryan Fitzpatrick’s completion percentage, but he’s definitely a possession receiver, averaging a Welker-like 10-11 yards per catch.  Nelson doesn’t possess elite speed, but for a receiver coming over the middle in a West Coast offense, he could be a matchup problem for opposing defenses, allowing speedy players like Hilton and Brazill to find open spaces deeper downfield.

Based on their recent courting of Heyward-Bey, the Colts appear focused on finding another speed guy, and Nelson doesn’t fit that profile.  He is, however, a sure-handed receiver who has the size to be a weapon in the red zone and muscle his way through contact over the middle.

Julian Edelman, Patriots (5-10, 200, 26 yrs. old):  Special teamer extraordinaire, slot receiver, and purveyor of long, flowing blonde hair Julian Edelman of the Patriots has compiled 714 receiving yards in four seasons – presumably all against the Colts (okay, not really).

He was a luxury on a team loaded with offensive weapons.  However, the former Kent State quarterback is probably more suited to play in the slot, and Indianapolis is already well stocked with slot-type receivers in Hilton, Brazill, and Whalen.  Edelman is still young and could be effective somewhere, picking up first downs against nickel backs and safeties, but he doesn’t appear to fit the Colts’ current need for an outside receiver.

Titus Young, St. Louis Rams (5-11, 174, 23 yrs. old): Um, no.  He crazy.

For a more thorough look at Young, we’ll turn to Walterfootball.com:

There’s no questioning Titus Young’s talent, but he’s a major head case. He started off last season by punching teammate Louis Delmas. He then sabotaged a game against the Packers by intentionally lining up in the wrong spots. And to top it off, he continued to mouth off on Twitter during the offseason, indicating that he hadn’t learned his lesson. I wouldn’t touch him, but there might be a coach out there who can turn him around.

“Sabotaged a game.”  I can’t get past that, and while Grigson likes giving second chances, it’s doubtful this guy will be getting one here.

Brandon Stokley, Denver Broncos (6-0, 194, 37 yrs. old):  Let’s get this one out of the way before anyone brings it up.  We all love Stokley.  We really do.  Many of us will always think of him as a Colt.  However, the Colts need an outside receiver, and while Stokley has the size to play outside the hashes, at 37, he probably isn’t fast enough to line up there anymore.

Stokley has played in the slot virtually his whole career, and it’s been a very good career.  He wants to play another year with the Broncos, and (speculation alert) he’s at the age where he would be more likely to retire than play for another new team.  While it would be fun to see him suit up in blue and white one more time, he just doesn’t fit what the Colts’ needs at receiver.

Randy Moss, 49ers (6-4, 210, 36 yrs. old):  No.  Just, no.

Other free agents available include 30 year old journeyman Michael Spurlock of the Chargers; special teams ace Joshua Cribbs of the Browns; unfortunate, concussion-riddled Laurent Robinson of the Jaguars; gigantic, but unproductive Ramses Barden of the Giants; aspiring crime scene investigator Deon Butler of the Seahawks; and the immortal Mohamed Massaquoi.  Any of these guys could be good depth players, but none of them looks like next year’s number two receiver.


Rookie WR Prospects

That leaves us with the rookies.  Colts Authority’s Olly Dawes has already written extensively on the two highest rated receivers, who are likely to be available with the 24th pick in the draft, so my descriptions will be brief.  I have provided links to their CBS Sports / NFL Draft Scout profiles on their names, as well as their NFL.com Combine profiles on their combine ratings.  Most of the info comes from their NFL Draft Scout profiles.

DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson, rated 87.8 (6-1, 214, Jr.):  DeAndre “Nuke” Hopkins is projected to come off the board in the last half of the first round or possibly fall into the second.  He is considered the third best WR in this year’s draft class behind Cordarrelle Patterson of Tennessee and WVU’s Tavon Austin.

Hopkins is a smart, precise route runner with soft hands, good acceleration, and decent speed (4.57 40 time).  He possesses good size for the receiver position and is known for his toughness.  Hopkins has another thing going for him: productivity.  He had 82 catches for 1,405 yards and 18 touchdowns in 12 games last year.

The biggest knocks against Hopkins are his 40 time, which could help him fall to the Colts if they want him, and that despite good hands, he sometimes tries to body catch the ball.  For all the questions about his speed, we should note that Hopkins averaged 17 yards per catch last season.

So, he doesn’t have blazing straight-line speed, but he’s smart and agile, with good hands, good fundamentals, and plays with toughness.  Hmm…sound familiar?  It should.    From NFLDraftScout.com:

Compares to: Reggie Wayne, WR, Indianapolis Colts – Like Wayne, Hopkins isn’t the biggest or fastest, but he’s able to manipulate his routes to create separation and is a reliable pass catcher with the body control, focus, and competitive nature to finish. And like Wayne (30th pick in the 2001 NFL Draft), Hopkins will likely fall out of the top-25 picks and prove to be an excellent value in the late first or early second round.

Keenan Allen, California rated 86.3 (6-2, 206, Jr.):  Twenty years ago, the Colts picked a big receiver from Cal in the first round.  Ah, memories.  Anyway, Keenan Allen is another first or second round prospect, ranked fourth among receivers, right behind Hopkins.  Allen had about the same 40-yard dash time as Hopkins, coming in at 4.53 seconds, but like Hopkins, plays with good speed in pads.

Allen isn’t apt to be taken at the top of the draft, especially now that he wasn’t healthy enough to participate fully in Cal’s pro day.  According to NFL.com’s Gil Brandt, Allen is still dealing with knee and hamstring problems and will have a separate workout in North Carolina in April.

Robert Woods, USC, rated 83 (6-1, 201, Jr.): Woods is coming of an injury to his ankle that required surgery. He is the right size and body type for his position and ran a 4.51 40-yard dash. He has a bit more straight-line speed than the other two, but more questions about durability and needs to build some more strength on his skinny frame.  Here’s the description of from his NFL Combine profile:

The Trojans receiver racked up big numbers throughout his career with quarterback Matt Barkley due to his foot quickness and burst after the catch, though the right ankle that bothered him at multiple parts of his career must continue to stay healthy. Woods needs to catch the ball more consistently downfield if he wants to be a top receiver for a team in the NFL, but right now the junior thrives on short to intermediate patterns.


Other interesting draft prospects include Quinton Patton, Ryan Swope, Stedman Bailey, and Cobi Hamilton, but if the Colts are to find a future number one receiver who can play this year, they will probably have to find one early.  If they don’t sign Heyward Bey, they will be taking a long look at the first round receiver prospects available.  If DHB does sign with the Colts, they will be freer to look for the best player available in the first round, in the event they don’t believe any receivers are worth that pick.


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Marcus Dugan

About Marcus Dugan

Marcus is a husband, dad, twitter geek, and all around average guy who covers news, game recaps, and additional material for The Colts Authority, while working even harder as an Indy area real estate broker. He's been known to overuse parentheses while editorializing (but who doesn't?)