Don’t Forget Anthony Gonzalez

It is amazing how quickly things can change for an NFL franchise.  When the 2008 season ended, the Marvin Harrison era came to a close and the door flew wide-open for third year wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez.  Then, without even getting touched, Gonzalez went down with a season-ending knee injury on the Colts first offensive possession as he exploded off the line to get into his route.

No one could have foreseen the insane physical development of Pierre Garçon, nor the lightning quick learning curve of Austin Collie.  Many thought that once Gonzalez went down with his injury the team’s hopes for a playoff berth were diminished and that the offense would take a lot of time to get back in sync.

On the contrary, Colts fans watched Garçon break out with a critically important 48-yard touchdown reception to seal a tough road win in Miami.  The following week he would reel-in three receptions for 64 yards and another touchdown in Arizona.  The second-year receiver from Division III Mount Union was developing into the hottest new name in football.

What separated Garçon from Gonzalez and the other Colts receivers is the mind-boggling physical development that turned him into the most physically imposing Colts receiver in a very long time.  The way he abused Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in Arizona, stiff-arming him, burning him deep, using his speed and size to out-class the proven corner gave good reason for fans to get excited.

In week four of the 2009 season, Austin Collie made his presence felt.  Collie caught six passes for 65 yards and scored his first NFL touchdown.  He then used the next two weeks to gain another 133 yards and pick up three more scores.  For a rookie receiver to be playing out of the slot, and be reserved to Manning’s fourth option on most passing downs, to still manage to put up nearly 200 yards and four touchdowns in just three weeks (after taking only three weeks to get acclimated to the NFL) is astonishing.

Throw in Dallas Clark having his first official Pro Bowl season, generating 1,106 yards receiving, with 100 receptions, and 10 touchdowns and you have the second rated passing offense in the NFL.

All of these things combine to make it relatively understandable that Anthony Gonzalez, former first round draft pick (2007), could be downplayed, dismissed, forgotten, or even seen as a “bust” because he has missed an entire season worth of football in his first three years.

With summer workouts, organized training activities, and training camp ramping back up for the 2010 season, however, it’s crucial that these silly sentiments are corrected and that fans rediscover their appreciation for Anthony Gonzalez. Without it, there is no way to fully realize the depth of talent in the Indianapolis Colts receiving corps.

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Somehow it seems that people forget that Gonzalez was fast, elusive, ran great routes, delivered when it was important, and was more productive in his first two seasons with the Colts than Reggie Wayne, who is widely considered to be one of the best receivers in the NFL.  Maybe a review of Gonzalez’s statistics and a quick look at some of his highlights will put things back into perspective.

In Reggie Wayne’s first two seasons with the Colts he played in 29 games, starting 16 of them, catching 73 passes for 1,061 yards and four touchdowns.  In Anthony Gonzalez’s first two seasons with the Colts he also played in 29 games, started only 11 of them, but managed to reel-in 94 passes for 1,240 yards and seven touchdowns.  Keep in mind that Gonzalez was playing behind Marvin Harrison, Wayne, and Clark as Manning’s primary targets.

Still, one thing that is memorable about Garçon is that he could stretch the field and give the Colts in 2009 a legitimate deep threat that many felt it was lacking for the previous few seasons with Marvin Harrison.  When Gonzalez was healthy he broke long receptions of 58 and 57 yards, along with multiple receptions that generated yardage in the upper-twenties to mid-thirties.

One of his most memorable long receptions took place at the beginning of the 2008 season at the Vikings, when the offense had yet to find a way to get on the board.  Gonzalez caught Manning’s pass and flew down the field to the Minnesota ten-yard-line, lateraled the ball to Reggie Wayne, and put the Colts on the goal-line.  The importance of that play to changing the momentum of that game cannot be overstated.

The biggest factor in Gonzalez’s favor, as he is compared to Garçon is the vast difference in their hands.  When Garçon was not making highlight reel plays, beating up high-profile defensive backs, or laying blocks for other players that made him look more like a tight end, he was dropping the football.  He caught only 52-percent of the passes thrown his way, including a critical drop in the second-to-last possession in the first half for the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV.

Gonzalez?  He caught 72.5-percent of the passes thrown his way over his first two seasons and was widely considered one of the most reliable targets in the NFL.  Don’t forget that he has 4.44 second 40-yard dash speed (slightly faster than Garçon), is shifty, elusive, and is arguably the Colts most polished route-runner.

How different would the Colts offense be if Garçon caught another 20-percent of his passes?  Could the outcome of the Super Bowl gone differently if Gonzalez was targeted and not Garçon on that same play?

Who knows?

One thing the Colts franchise and its fans should know is that when Anthony Gonzalez returns, the franchise just gained a lot of talent, a lot of experienced, and its receivers will be very scary for opponents.  The Colts are getting a wide receiver back who was poised to have a break-out year, had real chances to surpass 1,000 yards receiving for the first time in his career, and establish himself clearly as the new second option at wide receiver for Peyton Manning.

In case you truly forget how good Anthony Gonzalez is, and need a reminder of what you have to look forward to, check out his highlights below.

Anthony Gonzalez Highlights

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