The question has been asked recently if the 2010 Colts wideouts might be the best in franchise history. While I link Oehser's article, he's not by far the only one to raise the issue. Given the fact that the Colts run four deep, not counting Dallas Clark, it's a valid question to examine. I debated whether or not to include Clark in this discussion, and ultimately, I've decided in favor of including him. Clark isn't used like a conventional TE, so it's only reasonable to treat him like a wideout for the purposes of this comparison.
When considering what year Indy featured its best receiving corp, 2004 jumps off the page. Not only was it the only team to feature three players with 10 TD receptions and 1,000 yard receiving. While it can be argued that the 2004 production had everything to do with Manning and/or the rule emphasis, I think we can all say that Marvin Harrison in his prime, Reggie Wayne in his prime, a healthy Brandon Stokely and Dallas Clark in his prime were a freakishly good unit.
So let's stack the 2004 guys up against FOA 2010 projections for the unit and also against each guy having a career year (10% better across the board than the players previous best season).
#1s: 2004 Marvin Harrison v 2010 Reggie Wayne
|2010 Wayne (FOA 2010)||1232||93||9||13.2||22.2%|
|2010 Wayne (Career year)||1661||114||11||14.6||---|
These are just projections, of course, but using the FOA 2010 numbers gives us a baseline to work from. Actually, at first I tried just guessing his numbers, and without looking at FOA first, I came up with roughly the same projections. The "career year" numbers for each player will assume the player will have a 10% better year than the best year of their career to date. Given how much the Colts spread the ball around that year, it's not surprising that Harrison's numbers would be slightly lower than the projection for Wayne. In a vacuum, I'd still take 2004 Harrison over 2010 Wayne, but the projections favor Reggie. Let's call this a point for the 2010 Colts.
#2s: 2004 Reggie Wayne v 2010 Pierre Garcon
|2010 Garcon (FOA 2010)
|2010 Garcon (career year)||842||52||5||16.2||----|
First off, I assume Garcon will start the season at #2, though I don't expect him to finish there. Here's a big shocker: FO numbers hate Garcon. We've known that for awhile. They expect him to actually go backwards. While I certainly don't hope that happens, frankly it wouldn't cause me to even bat an eye. But let's say they get it wrong, and he takes a major step forward. Even if Garcon is 10% better than last year, the numbers aren't all that overwhelming. The best possible numbers you could hope to get from him would along the lines of 1,000 yards, 70 catches and 7 scores. That would be a MONSTER third season. He's still not really close to 2004 Wayne. I lean more toward the FO numbers, but either way, 2004 wins big, it's just a matter of degree.
#3s: 2004 Brandon Stokely v 2010 Anthony Gonzalez
|2010 Gonzalez (FOA 2010)
|2010 Gonzalez (career year)||730||63||5||11.6||----|
There are lots of assumptions here. We are assuming that Gonzo is #3, though I think he winds up as the #2 by the end of the year. These numbers for Gonzo are more or less similar to what he did his rookie year, so FO is assuming some significant regression for him. Still, they see him as having a similar, though more efficient, year to Garcon. The way I see it, even if he has a huge breakout season and vaults to the clear #2 WR on the team, he's not going to come close to the kind of numbers Wayne did in 2004. As you can see, any comparison with Stokely's numbers is probably unrealistic. There's just no way to mark this down as anything but a massive win for the 2004 Colts.
#4s: 2004 Brad Pyatt v 2010 Austin Collie
|2010 Collie (FOA)
|2010 Collie (Career year)||743||66||8||11.3||----|
Uh oh, no one is going to like this. FO HATES on Collie. Basically, they can't figure out how he gets on the field enough to see any passes. For the point of comparison though, it's a little skewed anyway. The 2004 Colts ran a lot of 2 TE sets, so Pollard was actually fifth on the team in catches. However, the exercise was supposed to compare the WR corp, so I had to drop to the 2004 Colts #4 WR which was either Troy Walters (who Peyton mentioned recently) or Brad Pyatt. Pyatt caught 2 balls, and Walters only caught 1, so either way it's a big win for 2010 (even with a bone jarringly bad projection from Collie).
TE Hybrid: 2004 Dallas Clark v 2010 Dallas Clark
|2010 Clark (FOA)
|2010 Clark (Career year)||1217||110||11||11.1||---|
Well, here's no surprise. 2004 Clark had to split catches with Marcus Pollard who also wasn't much of a blocking tight end. No matter how you slice it, a healthy Clark in 2010 will be far more productive than Clark was in 2004.
So the final tally shows that the 2004 Colts were better at the two and three spot by a wide margin. The 2010 Colts are better at the Tight End role by a wide margin. We can debate 2010 Wayne v 2004 Harrison. Most of this debate comes down to how Collie plays. If Collie has the kind of year FO predicts (11 catches, 1 TD), then the 2004 Colts win this debate. If he has a career year, then it's possible the 2010 Colts could challenge for the best group ever.
While I understand that many fans will have a hard time accepting the FO projections, especially for Collie and Garcon, it is also important to realize that all these players can't possibly have career years at the same time. Big seasons from 2-4 probably mean a reduction in the production of Wayne and/or Clark.