INDIANAPOLIS – The Indianapolis Colts' wide receiver room is currently like when you open up a pantry at home after you haven't been to the store in a while. There are products in there, but there might not be enough ingredients to make you think you can create an eye-popping finished product.
That’s not great news for the Colts' experienced chef -- well, new quarterback -- Matt Ryan.
The Colts took care of two of their biggest offseason needs by trading for Ryan and pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue. Those two won’t be enough, though.
Ryan – and running back Jonathan Taylor – need help at receiver, the next most-pressing need for the Colts. Ryan needs some targets he can depend on, and Taylor needs receivers to keep opponents from stacking the box on a regular basis when he tries to run the ball.
“Do we need to add [receivers]? Yes,” Colts general manager Chris Ballard told reporters during the NFL owners meetings last month. “I’m not going to sit here and say we don’t. But we have some young players that we like.”
The current state of the Colts receiving room is Michael Pittman Jr., who is coming off a 1,000-yard receiving season, and plenty of unproven players. That’s because veteran T.Y. Hilton is still a free agent and Zach Pascal signed with former Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni and the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Colts aren’t panicking over their current receiving situation because they feel optimistic about what they have coming back. Coach Frank Reich has high hopes for young receivers like Dezmon Patmon, Ashton Dulin and Mike Strachan. One of the best receivers returning – Parris Campbell – has become an only if player. Campbell could become the team’s No. 2 receiver next season only if he finds a way to stay healthy. He has missed 34 out of 49 regular-season games in the first three years of his NFL career.
“Our job is always to improve the roster,” Reich said during the owners meetings. “I happen to have a lot of belief in the young guys.”
It’s great to have belief in the young players on the roster, but returning receivers not named Michael Pittman Jr. combined for a total for 28 receptions, 387 yards and four touchdowns last season.
And that’s between six receivers.
To offset any lack of experience they have at receiver, the Colts are expected to include running back Nyheim Hines in the passing game even more next season. Hines, a former receiver at NC State, is coming off a season where he had a career-low 40 receptions. That should help the Colts, since running backs accounted for 29% of Ryan's completions (110 out of 375) last season with the Atlanta Falcons.
“We talk about it all the time. We talk about the real specifics at wide receiver we’d like to have … you’re looking for super competitive guys who are very productive and explosive but have great change of direction and great hands,” owner Jim Irsay said about the free-agent market at receiver. “You’re looking for a real specific talent at this point, and it doesn’t appear to be out there.”
The bad news for the Colts is that they don’t have a first-round pick after giving it to the Philadelphia Eagles as part of the Carson Wentz trade. The good news is they have seven draft picks and this a deep draft class at receiver.
ESPN NFL draft analyst Todd McShay had seven receivers taken in the first round and additional four more going in the second round of his most recent mock draft. He has the Colts taking Georgia receiver George Pickens with the No. 42 pick, six spots after Western Michigan's Skyy Moore went to the New York Giants at No. 36.
Although ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. also had seven wide receivers going in Round 1 of his newest mock, and another five in Round 2, he addressed another Colts roster concern (left tackle) by giving them OT Bernhard Raimann from Central Michigan at No. 42.
The Colts can’t go into next season still having questions in their wide receiver pantry. Not if they want Ryan to serve up wins at quarterback, especially with the improved talent in the AFC, where offensive production is expected to be even higher in 2022.
"We have the draft picks, and we’re excited about that," Irsay said. "We know it’s hard to bring in a rookie, just plug him in. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. Again, patience is critical, and not making mistakes is critical."