Brandon Stokley hoped he would make it through this season without having to answer questions about his durability or being remembered solely as the player who scored the first touchdown in the Ravens' Super Bowl win over the Giants in January 2001. So far, so good.
Stokley, the Colts' third receiver, has become as dangerous as any other player in the team's multidimensional offense. In a 35--14 win over the Raiders on Sunday he caught three passes, giving him 25 for the year--a career high for receptions in a season after only five games. "When teams play us, they're looking to stop Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison first and Edgerrin James second," says Stokley, whose 41 receiving yards against Oakland gave him 352 for the year, to go with three touchdowns. "I know they're not preparing to stop me. But that creates some opportunities I can take advantage of."
Stokley does most of his damage from the slot position in three-receiver formations. Because Harrison and fellow wideout Reggie Wayne attract so much attention on the outside, Stokley has ample space to exploit one-on-one matchups against nickelbacks and linebackers. That's what Indianapolis expected to get out of Stokley after signing him to a two-year, $2.9 million free-agent deal in March 2003.
At the time Stokley was known mostly for being injury-prone, having been sidelined for 31 of Baltimore's 64 games after the Ravens chose him in the fourth round of the 1999 draft out of Southwestern Louisiana. He was still recovering from foot surgery when he signed with the Colts. Intrigued by his speed and impressed by his unselfish attitude, Indianapolis decided he was worth the risk--only to see Stokley miss 10 of the first 12 games in '03 with an assortment of injuries.
Finally, the Colts appear to be getting their money's worth. Over the team's last 11 games, including the playoffs, Stokley has 53 receptions for 742 yards and nine touchdowns. In the same span Harrison has 60 catches for 782 yards and seven scores, and Wayne has 51 receptions for 695 yards and six touchdowns. "The way Brandon is playing," says receivers coach Clyde Christensen, "I don't think people are underestimating him anymore."