Indianapolis Colts' General Manager Chris Ballard has put together one of the league's deepest rosters in his four years in role. With a deeper roster though, comes some tough decisions in the preseason. In this new series for the site, I will be looking at a few key positional battles that will take place in Training Camp this year.
The focus for today's Training Camp battle piece is on the wide receiver position. The Colts have four players essentially locked into roster spots at the moment with Michael Pittman Jr, TY Hilton, Parris Campbell, and Zach Pascal. After those top four players, it should be a pretty intense battle to round out the group. Let's take a look at the seven players vying for the final two roster spots.
The most likely player to make the roster at this position has to be 2020 sixth round pick Dezmon Patmon. Patmon had a productive college career with Washington State where he totaled 156 catches for 1,976 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Patmon only played two snaps as a rookie for the Colts but the fact that they kept him on the roster for the entire season speaks volumes as to how they view him. His rookie season was essentially a redshirt season and as long as he has a decent offseason, he should be able to lock himself into the fifth wide receiver spot with relative ease.
While this may be a surprise to some readers, I think the other receiver on this list who is likely to make the team is Ashton Dulin. Dulin was an undrafted free agent in the 2019 NFL Draft who has stuck with the Colts the last two seasons. In his career, he has tallied five receptions for 70 yards on offense while also contributing 14 tackles on special teams.
Dulin may seem a bit like a cockroach (and I mean that endearingly) to this fanbase, he brings a valuable skill set that NFL teams want on their rosters; high level special teams play. He is an excellent athlete who can return kicks, cover kicks, or even block on returns. That ability to do it all on special teams along with his athletic upside, makes him a near lock every season. If a younger player is going to knock him off this roster, they are going to have to show that they can outperform him in the third phase of the game.
The biggest (and most intriguing) wildcard in this roster battle is 2020 UDFA DeMichael Harris. Harris is a player I went a bit more into detail on the other day but I love his potential with this team. In just 83 offensive snaps last year, he had 16 touches for 125 yards.
Harris was a player who was well off my radar going into last season. At just 5'9" 175 pounds, the undersized utility receiver made an impact in limited playing time when he got a chance on the main roster. His traits aren't as intriguing as Patmon's and he isn't as good on special teams as Dulin, but he has a good chance to make this team with a strong camp.
Michael Strachan, Charleston (2021 7th Round Pick)
Another very intriguing player in this competition is draft pick Michael Strachan. Strachan comes from a small school in Charleston but his testing numbers were absurd this offseason. Standing at 6'5" 226 pounds, he ran a 4.54 forty time, had a broad jump of 127 inches, and benched 20 reps of 225 pounds.
Strachan may have a long way to go to make this roster given where he is coming from but he has the traits that may be too intriguing to cut. The key for him will be special teams. If he can prove to be a better gunner than Dulin, then he should make that final roster spot. If Dulin is head and shoulders above him in this area, Strachan will likely spend the year on the practice squad.
JJ Nelson (recently with the Las Vegas Raiders in 2019)
The players from this point on are major long shots to make the roster but could have a chance with really strong camps (and maybe some injuries). Nelson is a veteran receiver with elite speed. In his career, he has totaled 85 catches for 1,475 yards and 11 touchdowns.
While Nelson's career never took off in the way it was supposed to, he is still intriguing as a gadget type of player. His speed is rare (4.28 forty time) and he can still get behind defenses. There are serious issues with his ball tracking and he isn't the biggest receiver but speed kills in this league and he has it.
Tarik Black, Texas (2021 UDFA)
Black is a former four star recruit who didn't quite pan out in college. Playing at both Michigan and Texas , Black totaled just 50 receptions for 747 yards and three touchdowns.
The intrigue with Black comes almost exclusively with his athletic traits. At 6'2" 213 pounds, he ran a 4.54 forty yard dash and posted a 40 inch vertical along with a 132 inch broad jump. Maybe the NFL can be a better place for his athletic ability to take off?
Tyler Vaughns, USC (2021 UDFA)
Vaughns had a bit of an inverted college career, as he looked really promising as a Freshman and mostly stagnated after that. He had a productive career at USC nonetheless as he totaled 222 receptions for 2,801 yards and 20 touchdowns.
The main concern with Vaughns comes with his athleticism, as he tested as a poor athlete at his Pro Day and never really showcased NFL speed on tape. He is a precise route runner who could make some waves in camp but I don't think he will make this roster.
Final Thoughts + Predictions
To end each of these training camp battle pieces, I will include my way too early prediction for what happens to each player. Obviously, these will change throughout the offseason and some players can out perform my expectation for them.
The receiver group is always one of the more interesting ones every year because there is a reason to be intrigued by each one of these players. I ultimately see it coming down to a battle between Dulon, Patmon, Strachan, and Harris for the final two spots.
For my predictions, I will say that Patmon and Dulin end up making the initial 53 man roster. Strachan and Harris both get signed to the practice squad while the other three players on this list end up being cut.
Follow Zach on Twitter @ZachHicks2.