As Colts fans eagerly await the start of training camp, many anticipate several training camp battles to break out on a roster that now has an abundance of depth everywhere you look. One of the deepest positions currently on the roster is wide receiver. From TY Hilton to Quartney Davis, the Colts have thirteen players listed at wide receiver on the official roster. While the room as a whole may not have the top-end talent that other elite AFC contenders possess, the Colts have put together a group of thirteen players who will make decisions extremely difficult when deciding who makes the final 53 man roster.
Looking at the wide receiver room as it currently stands, we can make an educated guess that there are four guaranteed locks, with those four being TY Hilton, Michael Pittman Jr., Paris Campbell, and Zach Pascal. Chris Ballard has come out multiple times and publicly stated that he still has a ton of confidence in Paris Campbell and that he has worked extremely hard to come back from the freak injury he suffered last year. Translation: Don’t bet on Paris Campbell being a surprise cut. Out of these four, the least volatile in terms of production projections would be Zach Pascal. The former undrafted free agent has been a steady presence in the wide receiver room over the past three years and has had a rather quiet ten touchdowns the past two seasons. Zach has had to play anywhere from wide receiver one to four over the course of the past three years due to injuries ravaging the corps, but he never fails to produce. He is, without a doubt, one of the most underappreciated players on the team.
Moving on to both TY Hilton and Michael Pittman Jr., I believe this is one of the most intriguing dynamics that Colts fans will watch play out over the entirety of next season. Will MPJ prove himself to be a legitimate wide receiver one? It is fair to say that with Carson Wentz being brought in, TY Hilton will have more opportunities to win deep and give the Colts wide receiver one production. However, as I wrote in a previous article, the Colts shouldn’t be banking on the 31-year-old to consistently put up the same gaudy numbers he did with Andrew Luck. If Michael Pittman can build on the rookie campaign he had last year and take the next step; the Colts would consider him a number one threat outside. TY Hilton can begin to take a back seat to the young gun and become more of a complementary piece as he enters the backend of his career. This would be the ideal situation for the Colts, as they could then see what they have in their other young, outside wide receivers that still need development.
Last year the Colts kept six wide receivers on the roster going into week one. The sixth man on that list was Dezmon Patmon, a sixth-round pick from Washington State a year ago. Patmon was inactive most of the year come game day as he learned the nuances of a complex NFL playbook and route tree. The fact that Patmon was kept on the original 53 man roster is a great indicator for how the Colts see him going forward. Whether he and his best friend Michael Pittman will be dominating on the outside in the near future remains to be seen, but hopefully, Colts fans will get a taste of what they have in Patmon this year, that is, if he makes the roster.
When you look up and down the rest of the names remaining, you can see the Colts have everybody type of receiver covered. Looking for short and shifty playmakers? Look no further than JJ Nelson and De’Michael Harris, two players who have shown some level of real NFL production. Harris, an undrafted rookie last year, is a familiar name for Colts fans as he contributed nicely in limited action last year, seemingly always getting chunk plays on jet sweeps. Ashton Dulin is another name that too often gets lost in the shuffle among Colts fans. While Dulin rarely impacts offensively, his special team’s play is coveted by the coaching staff and front office. Look for Dulin to have an inside track to being one of the wide receivers kept on the final roster due to his quality play in that crucial third phase of the game.
Everyone else I haven’t yet mentioned is either a rookie or has never played any kind of meaningful snaps yet in the NFL. Michael Strachan, the Colts seventh-round draft pick of out Charleston, seems poised to have a redshirt year on the practice squad, where hopefully he can develop and compete for a roster spot next year. Tarik Black is a height, weight, speed receiver out of Texas who will be interesting to watch as another possible developmental project. Tyler Vaughns is probably my favorite out of these three to possibly make the roster day one and even have an early impact. Vaughns doesn’t have all of the intangibles, as he only ran a 4.62 40 at 184 pounds at his pro day, but he is your stereotypical gamer wide receiver, a jack of all trades master of none type. Vaughns can get open, run beautiful routes, and fight hard for yards after the catch. This is the type of player who we could see break out at training camp and snag a roster spot, which wouldn’t surprise me in the least. Both Quartney Davis and Gary Jennings Jr have failed to ever stick on a roster. Jennings, however, was a fourth-round pick only 3 years ago by the Seahawks, so maybe he can make some noise come training camp.
Chris Ballard, Frank Reich, and the rest of the Colts organization have assembled a deep but volatile group of receivers this year. From the top to the bottom of the depth chart, we will get questions answered soon on the direction the wide receiver room is headed in the future. There are many young guys poised to take the next step, as well as a Colts legend who is looking to pass the torch to the franchise’s next great receiver. Whether or not this group will soon need a major overhaul next offseason stands to be tested in the coming months.