Is Bigger Better for Colts Wide Receivers in Red Zone?


The Indianapolis Colts have gotten significantly bigger among their receiving corps this offseason with the addition of both longtime and high-profile Houston Texans wideout Andre Johnson (6’3″, 230 pounds), as well as young CFL standout Duron Carter (6’5″, 205 pounds).

However, does bigger mean better? 

In theory, having a proven big bodied wideout like Johnson and to a lesser extent Carter should further complement the diminutive (at a listed 5’9″, 178 pounds), yet always dangerous T.Y. Hilton and his down-the-field receiving game. In fact, Johnson’s size is why his new head coach in Chuck Pagano still strongly believes in him despite him entering his 12th NFL season:

"“He’s a big, possession type guy. He makes contested catches in traffic. He’s got a big catch radius. A big body. Those guys are hard to defend,” said Chuck Pagano. “…There are few corners in the league that have length and size to match up but most are aren’t on that size and they get pushed around a little bit. He’s going to be able to bring that big, physical presence to us.”"

Jan 4, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Donte Moncrief (10) celebrates with wide receiver Hakeem Nicks (14) after scoring a touchdown against the Cincinnati Bengals during the third quarter in the 2014 AFC Wild Card playoff football game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

While the Colts also have emerging young wideout Donte Moncrief in their receiving corps, who’s no “smurf” at a listed 6’2″, 221 pounds, the 2nd-year pro is still figuring how out to use his bigger frame, something that the veteran Johnson may be able to help him with. As of now, he relies more on his deep speed than his big frame to make catches all-in-all however.

With Reggie Wayne‘s diminished play last season, the Colts receiving game struggled a bit because there was no proven wideout that could consistently move the chains and offer Luck a big target both over the middle and in the red zone. That figures to change this season with the addition of the 33 year old Johnson and possibly Duron Carter as well.

While there were notable exceptions like Randall Cobb and Mike Wallace, as well as freak athletes like Odell Beckham and Antonio Brown, the majority of last season’s red zone scoring leaders at wideout were bigger bodied wide receivers. In theory, being bigger and stronger near the goal line is more of an advantage over separation speed, as a wideout can use their size and strength to outmuscle cornerbacks for the football when there isn’t as much space to truly separate with:

Compare those marks to some of the Colts wide receivers this past season, and it’s easy to see that the team’s receiving corps could withstand for some improvement going forward.

The addition of Johnson at 6’3″, 230, should provide the Colts offense with a new wrinkle that they did not previously possess, as they haven’t had a physically imposing wideout since…well ever in the franchise’s recent history:

As pictured above, Johnson at a 46.2% red zone catch percentage would help upgrade the Colts receiving corps, as it bests every wideout except Donte Moncrief. Keep in mind too, that this was with the likes of Ryan Fitzpatrick and other below average starting quarterbacks throwing him the football with the Houston Texans. That number figures to increase with an elite quarterback like Andrew Luck now throwing him tight spirals in the red zone.

While Moncrief shined, albeit in a small sample size of just 3 red zone targets, the rest of the Colts wide receivers weren’t overly impressive all things considered. Hilton’s strength will likely never be in the red zone due to his smaller stature, but the team’s offense also didn’t get much help from their average sized wideouts like Reggie Wayne and Hakeem Nicks last season.

With Johnson entrenched as their #2 wideout and perhaps even utilizing Duron Carter as a red zone specialist, the Colts offense figures to obtain a clear boost in their red scoring efficiency among their wideouts. Last season’s receiving corps clearly struggled a bit in this area, and it looks as though as it relates to red zone scoring at wide receiver…

BIGGER is in fact better. 

Oct 9, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Indianapolis Colts receiver Reggie Wayne (87) and Houston Texans receiver Andre Johnson (80) after the game at NRG Stadium. The Colts defeated the Texans 33-28. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

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