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Colts' 2022 NFL Draft Primer: Wide Receiver

The Colts' NFL Draft Primer series continues with the next position group of focus. Which wide receivers in this class fit the Indianapolis Colts?

As much as it pains me to say, the Indianapolis Colts are officially in draft season. The 2021 season is officially in the books and it is time to start looking at prospects in this upcoming class.

Yesterday, I wrote all about the running backs that could fit this team on day three of the draft (for depth). Today, I am jumping to the next positional group on the docket; wide receiver.

Wide receiver is arguably the Colts' biggest need on the roster heading into the offseason. Michael Pittman Jr emerged with a 1,000 yard season, but the rest of the players at the position are fairly replaceable.

With the Colts needing so much help at this spot, there really isn't one certain mold that they should target. They simply need talent. With that, my job in finding a few players to talk about in this series is a bit tough.

In order to talk about as many players as possible, I will be separating these receivers by categories (slot, deep threat, etc.) and will talk briefly about a bunch of players that fit. That way, you all have a wide list of players to go back and watch to get excited for.

Deep Threats

The biggest need for the Colts' wide receiver room is speed down the field. This was supposed to be the role taken up by Parris Campbell, but he has simply not been able to stay on the field.

Adding a player that can spread out opposing defenses is absolutely vital for the Colts this offseason. Here are a few players that I like for that role in this draft:

Jalen Virgil, Appalachian State (6'1" 210 pounds)

Virgil enters this draft as one of the freakiest athletes in the entire class. As a late addition to the App State track team in 2018, he ran the 100 meters in 10.29 seconds to place second in a Championship meet. He also reportedly has a 40.5 inch vertical and 10 foot 11 inch broad jump.

While Virgil was never able to find consistent success in college (only 1,436 yards receiving in five seasons), it is hard find a player that moves like him. If an NFL team can properly develop him at the next level, he could be an absolute steal in this draft.

Christian Watson, North Dakota State (6'5" 208 pounds)

Another raw player with tools to develop is NDSU's Christian Watson. He was a productive and explosive player at the FCS level, averaging over 20 yards per catch on 105 career catches.

Watson has some work to do to prove that he can consistently separate in the NFL, but his traits are good enough to take a shot. He has legit speed that could be an asset on day one. His performance at the Senior Bowl later this month will be big for his stock.

Jalen Tolbert, South Alabama (6'3" 190 pounds)

One of the more intriguing players in this class, Jalen Tolbert was a big play machine at South Alabama. He finished his career averaging 17.6 yards per catch, leaving this past season with a career high of 18 yards per reception (on 82 catches).

Tolbert, like Watson, has to show this offseason that he can do this against better competition, and he will get that chance at the Senior Bowl later in the month. His film is super fun and he should fit the typical mold that the Colts like in their wide receivers.

 

Reggie Roberson Jr, SMU (6'1" 197 pounds)

Another Senior Bowl player makes the list as Roberson Jr is an explosive player out of SMU. I nearly included him on the slot/gadget section of this list, but I believe he is best utilized vertically down the field.

He finished his collegiate career with 15.7 yards per reception, while notching a career-high 21.5 yards per catch in 2020. He is going to have to have a very defined role to succeed in the NFL, but I love how he fits into that vertical receiver spot on a team.

Slot/Gadget Receivers

Along with needing a player that can spread out a defense over the top, the Colts desperately need a player that can win in the slot. The team has tried numerous players in this role, most notably Zach Pascal, but the options simply haven't been able to get it done.

Whether it is an explosive gadget player or a player that can win one on one routes, the Colts need more talent in this role. Here are a few draft players I like for the Colts to fill it:

Wan'Dale Robinson, Kentucky (5'11" 185 pounds)

One of the most fun and energetic players to watch in this draft class is Wan'Dale Robinson. After two modest seasons with Nebraska, Robinson exploded for major production in 2021 with Kentucky. He finished the year with 104 receptions for 1,334 yards and seven touchdowns.

Robinson did most of his damage from the slot in the Wildcats' offense. He was absolutely deadly underneath, while also being able to take the top off of a defense when given space. If you liked Kadarius Toney in last year's class, Robinson is a very similar prospect.

Kyle Philips, UCLA (5'11" 191 pounds)

If you are looking for the next Hunter Renfrow or Jamison Crowder, Kyle Philips is the perfect candidate. A deadly route runner from the slot, he had his most productive season in 2021 with the Bruins. He finished the year with 59 receptions for 739 yards and 10 touchdowns.

While he may not boast elite speed or acceleration, he is a developed route runner that understands how to get open on third downs. The Colts desperately need the type of element that Philips can bring in their offense.

Calvin Austin III, Memphis (5'9" 162 pounds)

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Getting more into gadget territory, Calvin Austin III is simply dynamic with the ball in his hands. Is he going to last in the NFL at his size? I have no clue, but he sure is an interesting player to keep an eye on.

A former walk-on with a bit of a dog mentality, Austin III will have to shine at the Senior Bowl to truly catch the eyes of NFL scouts. His college career was phenomenal though, as he finished with over 2,400 yards from scrimmage in the last two years of play.

Velus Jones Jr, Tennessee (6'0" 200 pounds)

The final gadget player to talk about is Velus Jones Jr. One of the older players in this draft cycle, Jones Jr started his collegiate career at USC. He transferred to Tennessee in 2020 and had over 1,000 yards receiving in the final two years combined.

He may not be a super developed or well-rounded receiver at the moment, but he has good size/speed while being excellent with the ball in his hands. He was also a phenomenal college kick returner, averaging nearly 25 yards a return and having two touchdowns in his career.

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X-Receivers/Over-The-Middle Targets

While the Colts already have their X-receiver of the near and distant future in Michael Pittman Jr, it wouldn't hurt to add another player with a similar skill set. The Colts love to attack the middle of the field and adding a big bodied player that is fearless in traffic could be a big boost.

Here are a few of my favorites in this upcoming class:

George Pickens, Georgia (6'3" 200 pounds)

The ultimate what could have been player in this class. Pickens seemed primed and ready to break out in 2021 and establish himself as one of the draft's top wide receivers. Unfortunately, he suffered a torn ACL in the Spring, limiting his final season to just four games.

Pickens is a straight dog on the field that simply bullies defensive backs. Adding him to a wide receiver core with Pittman Jr would be a nasty duo for years to come.

Tre Turner, Virginia Tech (6'2" 190 pounds)

One of the more underrated players in this upcoming draft is Tre Turner from Virginia Tech. He is a physical player that may possess the best hands in the entire class. He finished this past year with 40 receptions for 675 yards and three touchdowns for the Hokies.

While he didn't produce a ton in college, he has the desired traits to make a big leap in the pros. He is my early candidate to be the day three steal that produces at a fairly high level in the NFL.

Justyn Ross, Clemson (6'4" 205 pounds)

Another story of a player that had his college career derailed by injuries. He was found to have a rare condition in his vertebrae prior to the 2020 season, which caused him to miss that entire year. He returned to the field in 2021 and simply didn't look the same as he did pre-injury.

He still has some nice footwork and route running for a bigger receiver, but the medicals will be big with him. He is currently dealing with a broken foot that he suffered at the end of this past season.

Do-It-All Threats

To conclude this article, let's look at a few guys that can do it all for an offense. These players could fit into any of the categories above and should be legit weapons at the next level:

David Bell, Purdue (6'2" 205 pounds)

Could I really write a receiver article for Colts' fans that doesn't include David Bell? Bell had a phenomenal collegiate career with the Boilermakers, one that he concluded with a season to remember. He finished the year with 93 receptions for 1,286 yards and six touchdowns, while also finishing as a finalist for the Biletnikoff award.

Bell is a versatile player that can be a number one wideout in the NFL. He may not have blazing speed, but he is silky smooth with incredible catch in traffic ability. He will be a legit player at the next level, and hopefully it is with the Colts.

Alec Pierce, Cincinnati (6'3" 213 pounds)

The other name to mention in this section is Cincinnati wideout Alec Pierce. Pierce is a bigger wide receiver that averaged over 17 yards per reception in college. He finished his final year with 52 catches for 884 yards and eight touchdowns.

There really isn't much that Pierce can't do on film. He is a great vertical weapon that can catch the ball in traffic, while also having great feet and the toughness to win over the middle. I have a hard time not seeing him be a productive receiver in the NFL.

Will The Colts Draft a Receiver in This Class?

There is almost no doubt in my mind that the Colts will draft at least one receiver in this draft. They could attack this position in free agency, but the way to go with receiver is to find players in the draft.

The last notable draft pick that Chris Ballard spent at the position turned into a 1,000 yard player. He needs to continue to throw picks at this vital position to improve one of the Colts' biggest weaknesses.

Luckily, this year, like many years, is a good one to need a receiver.


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