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With Julio going to division rival Titans, the final big shoe in the potential WRs to join the Colts this offseason fell. While Golden Tate has expressed interest in joining the Colts, it is unclear if it is mutual, especially with his age and recent injuries. So, after a long hiatus waiting for the Julio trade to materialize, I can finally continue my work projecting the Colts 2021 stats. This 2021 WR corps returns a lot of familiar faces; however, several factors could shake this projection up from last year:

  • New Faces: Rookies Michael Strachan & Tyler Vaughn
  • Return of Parris Campbell
  • The Ascent of Michael Pittman Jr.
  • Rivers to Wentz QB change and their differences in targeting receivers, both in volume & depth of targets.
  • TY Hilton’s age, is it just a number?

 

As a whole, the Colts WR unit hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire the last 2 years, and little to no turnover on the unit is a bit disappointing outcome for this offseason. However, there is a reason for optimism. This unit is very young outside of TY Hilton and has a diverse range of skillsets to inhabit various roles that Reich can put them in this offense. While a few of them have yet to fully live up to their potential, that doesn’t mean they are incapable of doing so in 2021, let alone ever.

Before we can calculate what the Colts WRs will do in 2021, we must first look back at the past to see how both Reich and Wentz have targeted the WR Position in their Offenses. while both 2016 & 2017 they were together(with Reich as the OC of the Eagles those years), here we can see a clear difference and change in philosophy offensively when Wentz was with and without Reich, as well as see how Reich has changed his scheme independently of former Eagles Head Coach Doug Pederson

Reich Os WR target share (* years also w/ Wentz)
Year Total Targets Target % Target % WR 1 Target % WR 2 Target % WR 3 Target % WR 4 Target % WR 5 Target % WR 6
2016* 305 50.43% 19.28% 12.19% 11.37% 2.80% 2.31% 1.98%
2017* 312 55.32% 21.28% 16.84% 11.88% 3.90% 1.42% 0.05%
2018 337 52.24% 18.63% 11.18% 8.07% 7.14% 6.06% 1.24%
2019 255 49.71% 14.04% 13.26% 6.43% 5.46% 4.68% 2.73%
2020 281 50.91% 16.85% 12.86% 11.05% 5.07% 1.81% 1.63%
Wentz Os WR Target share (* years also w/ Reich)
Year Total Targets Target % Target % WR 1 Target % WR 2 Target % WR 3 Target % WR 4 Target % WR 5 Target % WR 6
2016* 305 50.43% 19.28% 12.19% 11.37% 2.80% 2.31% 1.98%
2017* 312 55.32% 21.28% 16.84% 11.88% 3.90% 1.42% 0.05%
2018 276 46.07% 16.19% 15.36% 7.35% 4.67% 1.17% 0.05%
2019 255 41.60% 11.91% 11.26% 6.53% 3.59% 3.59% 1.96%
2020 281 46.99% 13.21% 11.20% 9.03% 4.85% 4.35% 2.17%
  • If we factor target % for each of these seasons and divide by the 10 total seasons (similar to what we did earlier with the Carson Wentz Stat Projection article earlier in the offseason), we get a 49.902% target share projected for the entire WR corps.
  • Additionally, each WR on the roster would get the following target share:
    • WR1 will get a projected 17.195% target share
    • WR2 will get a 13.318% target share
    • WR3 will get a 9.496% target share
    • WR4 will get a 4.418% target share
    • WR5 will get a 2.912% target share
    • WR6 will get a 1.384% target share
  • When this is converted to total targets based on my projected 543 pass attempts that Carson Wentz will do in 2021, the WR target distribution will look like this:
    • WR1: 93 targets
    • WR2: 72 targets
    • WR3: 52 targets
    • WR4: 24 targets
    • WR5: 16 targets
    • WR6: 8 targets

With the targets stated out, how do the Colts WR’s project to do in 2021?

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Of course, the question is, who will be each of these players? While health will be a big factor for a few of these players (TY Hilton & Parris Campbell especially), this projection is assuming that health is a non-factor. With that in mind, who among TY Hilton, Michael Pittman Jr., Parris Campbell, and Zach Pascal will emerge as the WR 1-4? TY and Pittman are most likely to be WR1/2 in my mind, but Pascal’s reliability shouldn’t be underrated, nor should Campbell’s role when healthy. At this point, I feel comfortable putting TY as the WR1 target-wise as Wentz’s propensity for the deep ball (8.8 Average Depth of Target in 2020, 3rd highest among passers with at least 250 attempts) should lead to a rise of deep targets for TY Hilton especially.

 

TY Hilton projection:

93 targets, 54 receptions, 832 yards, 15.41 ypr, 5 TDs

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WR2 would likely be Michael Pittman Jr. in my opinion. Pittman developed very strong towards the end of the season, and Wentz’s favorite targets have been bigger-bodied receivers throughout his time in Philly (whether TEs or WRs). I expect Pittman to have a solid role for the Colts in his 2nd year, getting an 11 target bump and a larger target share (but lower per game targets). His game likely will continue to evolve on a per touch basis as well. He displayed a great development as a Yards After Catch threat in his rookie year and is a reliable intermediate route runner. Should he shine some more contested catch ability (which was on display back in his USC days) or get better in the Redzone (only 1 TD in 2020), he will take a solid step forward in his career. He will allow the Colts to feel more comfortable with him taking an even larger role later on (especially when TY Hilton inevitably moves on from the Colts/football).

 

Michael Pittman Jr. Projection: 72 targets, 48 reception (66.6 catch %) 653 yards, 13.6 ypr, 4 TDs

2 carries, 17 yards, 8.5 ypc, 0 TDs

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WR3 is another interesting debate. While the Colts do run more multi-TE formations than nearly any other team and thus don’t go to 3 Wide as much, the WR3 still has a good sizable role in the offense. With that being said, the battle between Pascal and Parris is a unique matchup of near-polar opposites. Campbell is the dynamic speedster & YAC fiend who has the potential to develop into the long-term deep threat. However, his injuries over his first 2 years have given him a small sample size of data and production. But when he has been fully healthy on the field and not recovering from or getting injured, he has gotten a strong workload (4/9 career games with 5+ targets). If healthy, I’d expect Campbell to have a career year and maintain the WR3 role over Pascal.

 

Parris Campbell Projection: 52 targets, 38 receptions (73.08% catch rate), 464 yards, (12.21 ypr), 2 TDs

11 carries, 94 yards, 8.55 ypc, 1 TD

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However, in reality, if I were a betting man, I would expect in the event of an injury ahead of him on the depth chart, Pascal yet again steps up into a bigger role. The solid and well-rounded WR has proven himself to be a durable and reliable secondary weapon for an offense, and Reich loves his blocking ability and high-effort play. Pascal might not be as physically gifted as the WRs ahead of him, but he makes up for it with his steady play. While I am projecting him a far lower role than previous years, he shall likely exceed this given some of the injury/surgery concerns ahead of him (all 3 WRs ahead of him have missed time the last 2 years, though MPJ’s compartmental leg syndrome is not a recurring injury). He will still be a solid role player no matter what this year.

 

Zach Pascal Projection: 24 targets, 14 receptions, 203 yards, 14.5 ypr, 3 TDs

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For the WR5 spot, there is a clear drop-off from the top 4 WRs, though the hope is that Dezmon Patmon can step into a role in the offense for his 2nd year. A healthy scratch for all of 2020, he couldn’t make an impression last year on the field. However, the team did like him enough to keep him on the roster and not on the practice squad. He will have some competition with new 2021 draft pick Michael Strachan, but Strachan is more of a project at this point. Patmon will be key depth for Pascal and Pittman, the 2 bigger WRs ahead of him, as a Redzone and contested-catch specialist. Very few other receivers behind him fit that mold, and his prototype could be key in case of injuries. While not getting as much of a role as those ahead of him, he will still be useful in weeks where the depth is tested.

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Dezmon Patmon Stat Projection:

16 targets, 9 catches, 114 yards (12.66 ypr), 0 TDs

 

Dulin impressed me last year. He seems like a good depth player for the Colts to be the YAC and short-yardage depth player should anything happen to speedsters Hilton and Campbell. Dulin provides them with another dangerous threat with the ball in his hands and space, especially short throws, and pre-snap motion routes. While his role won’t be very significant if everyone is healthy, he can be used in a decent secondary target role and a decoy for others.

8 targets, 5 catches, 73 yards (14.6 ypr), 0 TDs

2 carries, 15 yards (7.5 ypc), 0 TDs

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