When the Colts drafted Anthony Gonzalez in the First Round of the 2007 NFL Draft, fans assumed he would be the long-term replacement for slot receiver Brandon Stokely. In his rookie season, he showed impressive athletic ability and reliable hands, which got a lot of fans in Indianapolis really excited.
In 2008, Marvin Harrison suffered a knee injury that would — for all intents and purposes — end his professional career. Gonzalez was forced to move to wideout, where he again looked like a promising prospect who could have a bright future.
All of that ended on the first offensive play of the 2009 season.
Since Gonzalez suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2009 — an odd injury where no player touched Gonzalez as he released from the line of scrimmage — he has not returned to the field 100% healthy for any meaningful period of time. The player waiting behind him in 2009? 2008 seventh round draft pick Pierre Garcon.
Since Garcon slid into the starting spot, he has yet to relinquish it. With the addition of Austin Collie to the squad in the Fourth Round of the 2009 NFL Draft, the talent and competition for passes from Manning has grown even more intense.
A few things are patently certain for Anthony Gonzalez in 2011. The first is that unless Austin Collie misses significant time or noticeably declines in performance, Gonzalez has little chance of unseating him in the slot. The second is that if he does not manage to make a meaningful impact in the Colts offense this season, his future in the NFL will be in jeopardy. Finally, his best shot to make it onto the field is to beat out Pierre Garcon as the second starting wideout — the same competition he wanted in 2010.
Frankly, Gonzalez cannot afford to have anything go wrong this year. His window of opportunity to stake a claim as one of the league’s valuable receivers is slipping away from him. Few believe that he lacks the physical talent, the hands, the speed, or the route-running ability to pull off a comeback. But belief alone is not enough.
There is no denying that, in 2011, Anthony Gonzalez has something to prove.