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Assessing the Colts during the offseason: Wide receivers

T.Y. Hilton

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – By any standard, the Indianapolis Colts weren’t good enough in 2016.

The only bottom line that matters: finishing 8-8 (again) and missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1997-98.

“We understand that 8-8 in not good enough and that’s on me,’’ coach Chuck Pagano said. “This is a winning culture, it is a winning organization and we didn’t achieve the goal and we all know that.’’

It’s going to take significant personnel changes during the offseason if the Colts are going to return to relevancy. That includes prudent investments in veteran free agency, which begins March 9, and further bolstering a flawed roster through the April 27-29 draft.

Before we consider outside solutions, we’ll take a position-by-position look at the Colts.

Today: Wide receivers

  • Under contract: T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, Phillip Dorsett, Chester Rogers, Devin Street, Marcus Leak, Tevaun Smith.
  • Pending free agents: None.
  • Looking back: It was easy to criticize Hilton. In six games, Andrew Luck’s go-to receiver was pedestrian: 21 catches, 251 yards, one touchdown. The Colts were unable to compensate, losing five of six. That includes the lackluster game in London when Hilton wasn’t able to convert a critical third-and-10 in the closing minutes that contributed to the 30-27 loss to Jacksonville.
    But the big picture spins a different story. Hilton posted career highs in receptions (91) and receiving yards (1,448) and became the first Colt since Reggie Wayne in 2007 to lead the NFL in yards. He cracked the 100-yard mark six times and his yardage total represents the fifth-highest in team history. Only Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne piled up fatter totals.
    Cognizant that Hilton struggled when left stationary in the formation, coordinator Rob Chudzinski moved him around more and put him in motion. The results were impressive. Hilton joined Harrison, Wayne and Raymond Berry as the only Colt receivers selected to at least three consecutive Pro Bowls.
    “I think he’s expanded what he can do on the field,’’ Chudzinski said. “For a guy that’s been in the league for four or five years to improve the way he has . . . he’s played down inside, providing he’ll go in there, mix it up, make the tough catches.
    “Just his ability to go everything and do everything for us and he’s expanding that because at one time earlier his career he was just the deep-ball guy, but he’s become a complete receiver in that way. Again, just making the critical, critical catches for us.’’
    Of Hilton’s 91 receptions, 66 (72.5 percent) produced first downs. That was a better rate than the New York Giants’ Odell Beckham Jr. (65-of-101, 64.4 percent) and Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown (64-of-106, 63.4 percent). Hilton remained a big-play threat with a league-best 16 receptions that gained at least 25 yards.
    Perhaps accentuating the magnitude of Hilton’s season was the fluid nature of his supporting cast. Donte Moncrief missed six games with shoulder and hamstring injuries; Phillip Dorsett missed one game with foot and hamstring issues; and Quan Bray, in the early mix as the fourth receiver, was placed on IR in mid-October with an ankle injury.
    Through it all, Moncrief established himself as a top-drawer red-zone threat with a career-best seven TDs and Chester Rogers, an undrafted rookie out of Grambling State, emerged as a keeper. Rogers finished with modest numbers – 19 receptions and 273 yards – but seemed to make catches that mattered.
    The overriding disappointment? Dorsett. Too often, the 2015 first-round draft pick was a non-factor, especially when Moncrief was out. Luck completed only 55.9 percent of his passes directed at Dorsett (33-of-59) and managed a 83.2 passer rating, the lowest among his regular targets.
  • Looking ahead: We’re getting perilously close to Bjoern Werner territory with Dorsett. You remember Bjoern Werner, right? The 2013 first-round draft pick who never fulfilled expectations and was released following his third season? Yep, that Bjoern Werner.
    There’s still time for Dorsett to quiet his mounting critics and prove he belongs, but time’s running out. His emergence would give Luck an impressive stable of receivers. Failing that, management faces the prospect of another blown high draft pick (Werner, D’Joun Smith) and the importance of Rogers’ continued development increases.
    Also, this group has to clean up its act regarding dropped passes. Luck’s 63.5 completion percentage was a career best. Imagine what it might have been had his receivers – that includes running backs and tight ends – not dropped 25 passes. That was the fifth-highest total in the NFL. Hilton suffered six drops, eighth-most in the league, but also was targeted 155 times, fourth-most.
  • Offseason priority: Moderate. There are too many other talent-deficient areas to address.

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