When healthy, the Colts sport one of the NFL’s top groups of wide receivers. Reggie Wayne is an elite number one receiver who tops 1,000 yards and approaches 10 touchdowns regularly. Pierre Garcon has not established himself as one of the league’s top receivers but, with consistent hands, offers Indianapolis a legitimate deep threat across from Wayne. Austin Collie was on pace to put up absurd numbers in 2010 if he did not suffer multiple concussions that would keep him out of numerous games and end his season prematurely. If Collie played a full season in the slot he would have pushed Wes Welker for the best slot receiver in the NFL.
Anthony Gonzalez has been unable to stay healthy for two straight seasons, although he was ready to return in 2010 had the Colts coaching staff not felt compelled to move him to injured reserve. While he has yet to have his “break out” season, all signs indicated that 2009 would be his first year with better than 1,000 yards receiving in place of Marvin Harrison. Gonzalez and Collie are both able to play inside or outside. Even undrafted rookie Blair White stepped in and showed a great deal of potential when Gonzalez and Collie missed significant time. Once he gets his timing down with Manning, he could likewise offer a legitimate receiving threat who has already shown a propensity for being a big end zone target.
The questions for the Colts receiving corps all surround how much confidence the team has in the sustainable health of Collie and Gonzalez. The severity of concussions and their impact on players has been covered numerous times at Coltzilla and it is commonly known that once a player suffers a concussion, he becomes more likely to suffer another. This could mean that Collie’s steady contributions for all of 2011 or even the rest of his career or so in doubt that Indianapolis cannot rely on him as they plan for the draft. This will have a significant impact on the need line at wide receiver. Gonzalez is in a similar situation with a similar impact on the team’s needs.
It is also worthwhile to keep in mind that Wayne will be in the last year of his current contract, and will end the season at 34 years old. The Colts’ confidence or interest level in re-signing the veteran receiver will have another important impact on who Bill Polian may choose.
Round 1 – Pick 22
A.J. Green - Georgia – Green and Jones are neck and neck for honors as this year’s draft’s top receiver. If the Colts want to select Green they will have to move up into the top 10 at minimum. The only way this seems plausible or necessary is if the team is looking to replace Wayne in 2012. Otherwise, the need for another wide out who is projected as a number one may not make sense. Low to moderate value.
Julio Jones - Alabama – See above. Low to moderate value.
Torrey Smith - Maryland – Smith is Maryland’s all-time leader in all-purpose yards. He has experience as a returner, which may offer extra benefit. Two things may scare teams away from drafting Smith. First is his small hands and second is his propensity to trap the ball against his chest on film. Those who trap the ball against their chest in the NFL are more likely to cough it up when they are hit. Still, if he drops far due to these concerns, his value will increase. Low to moderate value.
Round 2 – Pick 53
Leonard Hankerson - Miami – Hankerson should remind a lot of Colts fans of Pierre Garcon. His college career showed that while he had inconsistent hands from time-to-time, he also had a propensity to make spectacular one-handed grabs and highlight reel receptions. He will also remind of Reggie Wayne in that he is a Miami product, uses his size to his advantage (Wayne plays big), and is a true wideout. If he falls to the Colts in the second round he would cause the draft room to have a serious discussion. Moderate to high value.
Jonathan Baldwin – Pittsburgh – Baldwin belongs squarely amongst the physical freak receivers in this draft class. A 6-foot 4-inch receiver that weight 228 pounds, runs a 4.45 40-yard dash, and has a 42-inch vertical leap and 10-foot 9-inch broad jump is pretty rare. Even his film shows that he catches the ball with his hands and uses his height to make it very difficult for cornerbacks to defend him. Moderate value.
Randall Cobb – Kentucky – Cobb can be characterized as a poor man’s Percy Harvin. He can run, return, receive, and take direct snaps in the wild cat formation. Ultimately, this will make his stock really high for teams like Miami who may feel they can utilize that skill set immediately, but he may make less sense for the Colts. He is short and fast and would compete for the slot and return jobs. Former first round pick Gonzalez and potential Pro Bowl talent Collie are already on the team. This high of a pick for a returner may be too much. Or… maybe the Colts should get a Percy Harvin type of player to be an X factor. Low to moderate value.
Round 3 – Pick 87
Titus Young - Boise State – Young may be one of the most underrated receivers in the 2011 draft class. He has speed, excellent hands, can get behind coverage, be a deep threat, and be reliable in possession situations. Add to all of his positive attributes experience and success as a returner and his value grows further. If Young is available with the Colts third round pick, he will warrant discussion. If he falls to the fourth, he could be a no-brainer. Moderate to high value.
Tandon Doss - Indiana – Doss seems like an intriguing pick for the Colts in the third round because of his proximity to Indianapolis. There is little reason to doubt that the Colts scouting team has thoroughly reviewed Doss and have a good idea how he would work out in Manning’s offense. While tape is limited, Doss seems to be a 6-foot 2-inch possession receiver primarily. He was scheduled to work out on April 6 in order to get an idea on his speed and athletic ability but he appears to be a slightly more high profile Blair White on film. Low to moderate value.
Round 4 – Pick 119
Austin Pettis - Boise State – Pettis and his teammate Titus Young may be at the top of the draft class for sure hands. At 6-foot 3-inches, he can be a big target who is very dependable. Although he is not fast, standing on a 4.56 40-yard dash at his Pro Day suggests that he does not expect to do much better, he could be a Collie-White hybrid that would bring value in the fourth round or later. Moderate to high value.
Terrance Toliver – LSU – Toliver looks and plays like the kind of receiver the Colts could be interested in. At 6-foot 4-inches, 211 pounds, with a 4.54 40-yard dash he could be an excellent possession receiver and end zone target. His speed does not make him a deep threat but his height makes him difficult to cover. Titus Young would be a better pick if he falls, otherwise, Toliver would give the Colts some security for injuries. Moderate value.
Edmund Gates – Abilene Christian – Gates is a small school prospect who possesses good speed and is tall enough to play wideout in the NFL. The question that will come up is his level of competition, which was decidedly lower than many of the other wide receiver prospects. Small school players are not foreign to the Colts but the fourth round may be too early for comfort. Low to moderate value.
Round 5 – Pick 152
Greg Salas – Hawaii – Salas is an impressive slot prospect who could go higher than the fifth round. If he is still available when the Colts pick he would be a good value pick to provide some insurance for Collie and Gonzalez. He has sure-hands, runs solid routes, and at 6-foot 1-inches tall, he offers good size for a slot receiver. Moderate to high value.
Niles Paul – Nebraska – Paul’s primary strengths for many NFL teams will be his success as a returner. At 6-foot 1-inches tall, with a 4.42 Pro Day 40-yard dash, he may develop into a NFL caliber wide receiver but his career and workout numbers do not suggest that he will be anything special as compared to many other options. If the Colts want to take another returner, they may consider a flier on Paul, though the sixth round seems like better value for a specialist. Low to moderate value.
Round 6 – Pick 188
Jeff Maehl – Oregon – Maehl is the kind of high-effort player the Colts really like. He is sure-handed, is not afraid of taking hits over the middle, and generally will work hard and do what is necessary to have success. Whether his high energy and effort can make up for his 4.62 40-yard dash speed against NFL level cornerbacks is the real question. That said, if Indianapolis hopes to get some kind of insurance at wide receiver in the draft and has not been able to do so in the first five rounds, Maehl is a good value pick in the sixth. Moderate to high value.
The 2011 NFL Draft provides an opportunity for some rather interesting things to happen with all of the talent along the offensive and defensive lines, particularly early in the draft. It is possible that Polian will be faced with making a decision for a player like Hankerson in the second round that he cannot pass up. Likewise, if Titus Young falls to the third or fourth, the Colts may have a too good to pass up scenario in front of them. Because this wide receiver draft is not spectacular, the number of players who are sure-fire value picks is relatively small and spread throughout the draft. It all comes down to how the picks fall and which positions attract the most attention in the early rounds. Feel free to mention and discuss other receivers who are not covered in this list.