Former first-rounder Anthony Gonzalez is coming back from injury. Austin Collie has proven that his productivity at BYU was no fluke. Because both can clearly play in this league, there seems to be some debate about which of “Manning’s Minions” will be next to make the leap. Well, if there’s anything I exist to do, it is to eliminate confusion about quality football play. Let there be no mistake: Pierre Garcon has next in Indianapolis.
As usual, I offer evidence that is both scientific and artistic (read: anecdotal/ borderline hunchy) in nature. First, the science. The following are two season stat lines for two separate 2nd-year receivers from the last decade. Have a look.
Wide receiver No. 1 is Reggie Wayne, 2002, his second season in the NFL.
Wide receiver No. 2? Pierre Garcon, 2009. Also his second season.
Garcon was the starter in 13 games last year. Yes, he may have been there as a result of Gonzalez’s injury at the outset, but so what? If I have to explain that this isn’t the first time a player lost a job to injury, you’re probably in the wrong place. And you’re clearly not a Patriots or 49ers fan. Garcon seized that job with both hands and wrung its neck. The above stats earned him the 35th WR slot in my primary fantasy league as a second year player. If you believe in the 3rd year WR breakout you should believe in Garcon (of course, as the Sick Linked Pyromaniac explains here, perhaps you shouldn’t believe in the 3rd-year WR breakout as much as you do). It’s going to happen for him.
Two games during the 2009 regular season indicated to me that Garcon had achieved the most important possession possible among NFL wideouts: the trust of a great quarterback. Peyton Manning does not offer up double-digit targets in a single football game to just anybody. He did it twice to Pierre Garcon, against the Patriots in week 10 and again versus the Titans week 13. Then, Garcon caught 11 balls for 151 yards and a touchdown against a red-hot New York Jets defense in the AFC Championship game, and added five more catches for 66 yards and another score in the Super Bowl.
“But wait,” you might reasonably argue, “didn’t Austin Collie put up bigger numbers in 2009?” Sort of, yes. Collie’s 60/676/7 was impressive, and demonstrates that he too has Manning’s trust, should he be in the game. And there’s no question that Anthony Gonzalez had gained it prior to his injury, but even at his best I never saw anything out of Gonzalez like I saw out of Garcon in the latter stages of 2009. Pierre Garcon is a better athlete, bigger, faster, stronger and more aggressive than the other two. I’m believing my eyes here: Garcon is easily the most dynamic of the bunch.
There are plenty of balls to go around with #18 running the show, and the Colts aren’t likely to change that formula any time soon. They’ll keep cycling talented young wide receivers that can run precise routes and develop timing and chemistry with the Captain. But keep your eyes on Garcon in 2010, and you’ll be watching a multi-appearance Pro Bowler make the leap. Enjoy.