When Philip Rivers retired, the Indianapolis Colts began the search for a high-quality replacement. They found their answer when they traded with the Philadelphia Eagles for Carson Wentz, reuniting the quarterback with Frank Reich, who coached him during his best NFL season in Philadelphia. However, if the Colts want Wentz to be successful, the team needs to upgrade their receiving room. While not the most pressing need, the Colts would be wise to select a WR in a stacked 2021 NFL Draft class.
The Colts receivers were forgettable last season
You might argue that WR is far from the biggest hole on the Colts roster. After all, quarterback Philip Rivers was moderately productive last season, ranking tenth in the NFL with 4,169 passing yards. However, none of the Colts receivers reached 1,000 yards.
Their most productive receiver was T.Y. Hilton, who recently re-signed with the team on a one-year deal. His statistics were mediocre, with just 762 yards and 5 touchdowns. And at 31, he isn’t likely to improve in subsequent seasons.
Behind Hilton were Zach Pascal and rookie Michael Pittman Jr., who totaled 629 and 503 yards, respectively. Between the three of them, those three players were equal to approximately one and a half elite wide receivers. That isn’t a horrible level of production; there are certainly worse receiving groups in the NFL.
But Indianapolis is trying to revitalize Wentz’s career after several difficult seasons with the Eagles. If the Colts are going to be successful, Carson Wentz will need better weapons, either through free agency or the 2021 NFL Draft.
The advanced metrics are no kinder to the Colts WRs
In addition to their mediocre box score statistics, Pittman, Pascal, and Hilton also produced underwhelming advanced metrics. To demonstrate this fact, let’s look at the Offensive Value Metric (OVM), an advanced metric created by the (Bx) Movement to measure how much influence a player had on their offenses. The OVM confirms what the traditional statistics lead us to believe: Colts wide receivers did not significantly impact Indianapolis’ offense.
Of the three, Pittman was the highest performer (a grade of 31.86), which ranked 40th out of the 98 qualifying wide receivers in 2020. That isn’t a perfect comparison, as there is a wide range of sample sizes included in that group, but it gives you a general idea of how Pittman Jr. performed relative to the competition.
Pascal and Hilton, meanwhile, were even less effective, earning grades of 30.8 and 30.04, respectively. Those grades ranked 55th and 62nd.
Explaining why the Colts WRs earned such low OVM grades
To show why Pittman, Pascal, and Hilton’s grades were so unimpressive, we need to examine the advanced statistics involved in calculating a wide receiver’s OVM grade. Their performances on them help illuminate why the Colts need to look for help at the position in the 2021 NFL Draft.
The table below shows how each of them performed on the most relevant of those statistics:
- The amount of cushion they were given at the snap.
- The amount of separation between them and the nearest defender when the ball reached them.
- Their catch percentages.
- Their average yards after the catch per reception.
- The yards after the catch they were expected to average according to the NFL’s advanced statistics.
The Indianapolis wide receivers ranked at an average or below-average level on the vast majority of these statistics. Most relevant among these statistics are their catch percentages, all of which were notably low. It is difficult to impact your offense if passes thrown your way don’t reliably result in completions.
It is worth noting that Pittman clearly outperformed his teammates in this regard. He also had the only truly remarkable statistic between the three players: 7.1 yards after the catch ranked fifth among all qualifying wide receivers. However, his poor performance in other areas prevented him from earning a higher grade.
The consistent mediocrity of the Colts WRs provides more evidence the team should look WR in the 2021 NFL Draft
Indianapolis’ WRs poor OVM performances weren’t the result of inconsistent play. In the charts below, you can see how each of them performed from week to week, represented by the black dots. For comparison, the league average OVM grade for wide receivers during the season is represented by the yellow lines.
As you can see, with a few exceptions, their grades hovered around the league average. In general, they were neither especially bad nor especially good. Again, Pittman stands out from the group in this regard, as his grades display some more variance. On the whole, though, the group was consistently average.
There were worse receiving corps in the NFL, but few were as unremarkable as Indianapolis’ group. If Wentz is going to turn his career around, he will need more assistance from his teammates than that. The Colts ought to find help for him, and a wide receiver-rich 2021 NFL Draft seems like the perfect solution.
The Indianapolis Colts’ 2021 NFL Draft doesn’t need to start with a WR, but they should address the position
Carson Wentz hasn’t looked the same since Reich’s departure from Philadelphia. Hopefully, reuniting with his old coach can reignite his career. However, it will be much easier for him to do so if he is surrounded by talented wide receivers who occasionally can rely on to make plays on their own.
And none of the wide receivers currently on Indianapolis’ roster showed any signs of being those players last season. If the Colts don’t add someone, Wentz’s debut season with the team might not go as well as they are hoping.
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