4 Colts Form Potentially Potent Offensive Threat

The Indianapolis Colts have one of the most overlooked receiving units going into 2024.
Tennessee Titans cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting (0) hangs onto Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. (11) Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023, at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn.
Tennessee Titans cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting (0) hangs onto Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. (11) Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023, at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn. / Robert Scheer/IndyStar / USA TODAY
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In today's NFL, it's all about having as many offensive weapons as possible to compete with the athletic defenses around the league. For the Indianapolis Colts, their 2024 roster may be one of the most complete that has been seen for the franchise in years. Immediately, quarterback Anthony Richardson and running back Jonathan Taylor explode off the page when reading the depth chart. Given Richardson's dynamic athleticism and skills as a passer and Taylor's game-breaking potential any given play sets up the rest of the offense for success, but especially the receivers.

The top four pass-catchers for the Colts are who will be the topic of this article. Michael Pittman Jr., Josh Downs, Alec Pierce, and Adonai Mitchell each possesses a strength as a receiver that, when added to the others, creates a unique formation that could give opposing coverages major issues with the versatility of their skills. Let's begin with the superstar of the bunch, Pittman.

Michael Pittman Jr. | Safety Blanket - Possession

Colts receiver Michael Pittman Jr. runs away from a defender (black/white). He's wearing a blue jersey with white trim.
Las Vegas Raiders cornerback Nate Hobbs (39) looks to bring down Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. (11) after making a catch Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023, during a game against the Las Vegas Raiders at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. / Robert Scheer/IndyStar / USA TODAY

Since 2020 Pittman has been nothing short of fantastic in a Colts uniform. Through four seasons the former USC Trojan has had a ridiculous seven quarterbacks throw him passes yet has improved annually despite the constant rotations.

Last season is the performance that helped Pittman secure his new contract of three years, $70 million per Over The Cap. In 16 games played during the 2023 season, Pittman was targeted 156 times and caught 109 passes for 1,152 receiving yards and four touchdowns. Outside of the scores, Pittman set career highs in targets, catches, and receiving yards.

Pittman isn't a flashy receiver in the slightest, he also doesn't run the crispest of routes. However, he's as physical as any NFL receiver and can overpower coverage for tough receptions. Look no further than his insane grab against the Baltimore Ravens in week three to help Indianapolis win the game in overtime.

Pittman is also a serious target hog, soaking up almost 10 per contest last year. Despite being most of the passing scheme, he still pulled in 69.9% of his massive target share (43.9% of Colts passes for 2023). This metric of reliability shows how consistent Pittman is as a safety blanket for any passer. The biggest downside of Pittman has been the lack of touchdowns. Through his four seasons, Pittman has 336 catches and only 15 touchdowns. Mathematically this pans out to one touchdown every 22.4 receptions. While this isn't the worst thing, Pittman and the offense likely want a bit more red zone production to help open up the scheme when things get up front and personal around the goal line.

It's hard to imagine that Pittman will slow down with Richardson as a passer. If he got it done with backup field general Gardner Minshew for most of the year, he can be far better with consistency and solid play calling, both of which he has around him now. Expect Pittman to continue ascension as a receiver and leader of Shane Steichen's offensive unit.

Josh Downs | Quick Win - Route Running Technician

Colts receiver Josh Downs makes a catch against a defender (black/orange) while wearing a white/blue uniform.
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Josh Downs (1) completes a catch as Indianapolis Colts cornerback Kenny Moore II (23) defends in the first quarter during a Week 14 NFL game between the Indianapolis Colts and the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023, at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati. (Via OlyDrop) / Phil Didion/The Enquirer / USA TODAY

The Colts went against their typical wide receiver trend by drafting Downs in 2023. The third-rounder out of North Carolina immediately jumped then pass-catcher Isaiah McKenzie as the starting slot receiver and never looked back.

Downs showcased fantastic route-running, timing, catch radius, and yards-after-catch prowess as soon as the season started. Downs was a trusted target for Richardson and Minshew, concluding an impressive rookie campaign with 68 catches for 771 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Downs also contributed 5.5 yards after catch per reception and had 30 first downs from mostly the slot position (418 snaps).

While sometimes Downs struggled with physical, contested-style receptions, he still came down with the football when targeted more often than not. This shows through his 69.4% catch efficiency for the 2023 campaign with two separate quarterbacks running the offense. Despite being smaller in stature, Downs made huge plays and displayed overlooked speed as a pass-catcher.

Downs has a bright future in Indianapolis. While Pittman will be the undoubted number-one receiver, Downs isn't that far behind. He's already shown consistency and the ability to learn in a complex offense, there's no telling what he can accomplish with another season in the NFL under his belt.

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Alec Pierce | Vertical Threat - Blocker

Colts receiver Alec Pierce (all white/blue trim uniform) runs away from a defender (all blue uniform).
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Alec Pierce (14) receives a long pass to put the Colts at first and goal in overtime Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023, at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn. The Colts went on to score to win in overtime, 31-28. / Robert Scheer/IndyStar / USA TODAY

The Colts third-year wideout Pierce has divided fans on his performance through two seasons. So far, the receiving numbers haven't reflected the value of a second-round pick (2022 - 53rd overall). Through 33 games Pierce has put up 73 catches for 1,107 receiving yards and four touchdowns. But Pierce has already played with a whopping five different quarterbacks of varying abilities.

During his rookie season, he couldn't have played with a worse QB room featuring an over-the-hill Matt Ryan, a rag-armed Nick Foles, and Sam Ehlinger (who's nothing more than a QB3.) It's not to slam those three passers, but Pierce had issues adjusting as a deep threat with players who couldn't throw to his strengths as a receiver. Follow up with 2023 and it didn't get much better.

Pierce played all of last year primarily with Minshew. While Minshew does take care of the football and is accurate, he isn't a risk-taker with deep shots. This grossly contrasts Pierce's strengths as a pass-catcher, limiting his second year to 32 catches for 514 receiving yards and two scores. While Pierce didn't light it up with Richardson either, the latter was barely available to build rapport with Pierce. This is what Indianapolis hopes can change for Pierce in 2024. Despite the low receiving marks, Pierce has still shown big-play ability and can be deadly on a hot streak.

Besides being Indy's best deep threat, he's also the undisputed best blocker for any wide receiver, posting a 66.1 run-blocking metric per Pro Football Focus on 441 run-blocking snaps last year. This metric almost goes completely overlooked when talking about receivers, but when considering a play like Taylor's huge TD run in week 18 against the Houston Texans puts into perspective Pierce's importance.

It's fair to assume Taylor could have potentially broken the last tackle en route to the touchdown, but Pierce made his life easier by using his elite-level speed to shield off any would-be tackler. Pierce may not currently have the big-time receiving numbers, but he's already the best downfield threat and blocker of any wide receiver for the Colts. If Pierce can mesh with Richardson under center, those receiving numbers may be coming soon.

Adonai Mitchell | Most Explosive

Colts receiver Adonai Mitchell trains while at his college before the 2024 NFL Draft. He's wearing an orange/black outfit.
Wide receiver Adonai Mitchell goes through drills at Texas Longhorns Football Pro Day at Frank Denius Fields Wednesday March 20, 2024. / Jay Janner/American-Statesman / USA

Along with rookie Mitchell's entry, there must be a 'potentially' most explosive tag since nobody knows what will be right now. However, if the former Texas Longhorns standout can hit his stride and be what Indianapolis drafted him for, Steichen could utilize him as an explosive offensive weapon to push defenses to the brink.

Along with an extensive knowledge/execution of route trees, Mitchell possesses elite-level athleticism and speed. Essentially, Mitchell can win short, intermediate, and deep on routes while beating defenders in a footrace or deep ball. According to Kent Lee Platte's Relative Athletic Score assessment of Mitchell, the receiver can become an issue almost immediately with his acceleration and foot speed.

Mitchell is still young and inexperienced, but under the tutelage of NFL legend and wide receiver coach Reggie Wayne, he could hit the ground running as fast as Downs did in his rookie season. It's not farfetched to say Mitchell could be nipping at the heels of Pierce for the third receiver spot on Indy's depth chart, but not immediately.

Pierce is far better at blocking and 50/50 catches. While Mitchell is the most athletically gifted receiver for Indy right out of the gate, he still has a lot of room to grow as well. He's already off to a brilliant start in camp and has phenomenal route-running instincts. If these trends continue, Indianapolis could have a number-one receiver in Mitchell within the next few seasons. But, his explosive type of abilities as a pass-catcher could be felt as early as the upcoming 2024 season.


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Drake Wally

DRAKE WALLY

Drake Wally covers the Indianapolis Colts at Horseshoe Huddle and co-hosts the Horseshoe Huddle Podcast.