Dec 7, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns cornerback Buster Skrine (22) breaks up a pass intended for Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne (87) during the first quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports
Namely, what should they do with their beloved 14-year veteran wideout?
Wayne has clearly not been the same since he suffered an “elbow injury” in Week 7 against the Cincinnati Bengals. His play has even further diminished in recent weeks. In his past 3 games, he has 8 receptions for 46 total receiving yards and 0 touchdowns. On Sunday, he dropped a number of Andrew Luck thrown footballs that he’d normally catch.
For a wide receiver that has been heralded throughout his career as having some of the best hands in the game, Wayne has had trouble consistently making catches during the second half of the season. A big problem for a wideout that is a glorified possession wide receiver at this point in the twilight of his career.
The normally sure-handed Wayne is tied for 3rd in the NFL among most wideout drops with 8 drops according to SportingCharts.com this season. Digging even further, per ProFootballFocus, his 12.70 drop rate is the 6th highest in the league among wide receivers in 2014.
Never much of a down the field threat even in his prime, Wayne doesn’t offer the offense much if he can’t consistently make catches. He’s not much of a yards after the catch playmaker at this juncture in his career and doesn’t get nearly as much separation in his routes as he once did. His biggest asset right now is his ability to run clean routes and catch. The latter simply hasn’t occurred in recent games.
With 3 weeks to go in the regular season, the Colts likely won’t be able to find a solid replacement off the street at this point in the regular season. Even if they could, it would be awfully difficult to expect a new player to learn the offensive playbook and build a rapport with Andrew Luck in such a brief amount of time. What normally takes at least a full offseason would have to occur in a matter of a few short weeks.
Oct 19, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne (87) walks off the field after the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Colts defeated the Bengals 27-0. Mandatory Credit: Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports
Signed in December of 2006, 17-year veteran Ricky Proehl hardly made an impact for the Colts after being originally signed to replace Brandon Stokley in the slot.
While everyone expected the savvy veteran to immediately contribute and replace then injured slot-receiver Brandon Stokley, Proehl hardly made an impact. Instead, he appeared in just 2 games, catching 3 receptions for 30 yards. In truth, the veteran was on his last leg, retiring as a Colts’ Super Bowl champion at the end of the season; however, it was also simply too short of an amount of time to learn the offensive playbook, system, and build chemistry with his quarterback in Peyton Manning.
Internally, the Colts will likely give rookie Donte Moncrief a much bigger role with the starting offense. However, they’ll still need to run 3-wideout sets. Free agent signee Hakeem Nicks has shown little burst and rapport with Luck, and the remaining options are limited. The Colts could give recently signed Josh Cribbs a few wide receiver bubble screens a game, but he’s more of a special teams returnman than natural wide receiver. Having also been signed just a few weeks ago, it’s also doubtful that he has a firm grasp of the offensive playbook and the nuances of the system.
Oct 26, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Griff Whalen (17) returns a kick-off against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the third quarter at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 51-34. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
While the team could promote 3rd-year wideout Griff Whalen from the practice squad, he offers some of the same limitations as Wayne. Specifically, he doesn’t offer much down the field ability and get much separation on his routes. Still, unlike Wayne at his current physical condition, Whalen can at least consistently make catches. He’s been with the Colts’ organization during the past 3 seasons and obviously has a great familiarity with the playbook and offensive system.
Still, Wayne can still run pick routes, and the fact that he’s Reggie Wayne still probably makes opposing defenses pay attention to him on the field at all times. Yet, it’s hard to give such a large role to a possession wideout, who’s simply having trouble catching the football. The Colts could shut down Wayne all together and place him on season-ending injured reserve or maybe they’ll decide to rest his triceps injury during the remaining 3 weeks of the regular season.
When I asked “InjuryExpert” Will Carroll whether rest would positively improve Wayne’s condition, his answer was “maybe”:
Rest might very well be worth a shot at this point though, as the physically hampered Wayne has clearly been struggling and doesn’t offer the offense much at his current condition. With the AFC South nearly a lock and the ultimate goal of winning a Super Bowl, it seems like a calculated risk that the Colts may be willing to take.
Afterall, the team will need more from Wayne then what they’re currently getting, or they’ll need to find someone else who can fulfill his possession wide receiver role if they ultimately want to made a deep playoff run.
Oct 19, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne (87) is tackled by Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Jayson DiManche (51) and cornerback Terence Newman (23) at Lucas Oil Stadium. Indianapolis defeats Cincinnati 27-0. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports