The New Orleans Saints fielded one of the league’s strongest offenses again in 2017, but it started, stopped, and sputtered far too often. That was due to a lack of options in big situations: when teams found a way to defend Michael Thomas or Alvin Kamara, nobody else was able to step up. That turned into inefficiency on third down and dead ends in opposing red zones. But Indianapolis Colts wideout Donte Moncrief has the skills set to reverse that trend. Former Colts receivers coach Sanjay Lal talked about Moncrief’s upside and inconsistencies back in 2016:
“[Moncrief’s performance has been] hot and cold, to be honest. Shows flashes. He knows it, I know it. We continually strive to get him playing at a high level consistently… I’ll say this: Donte tries. He’s one of the most attentive in the meetings. He watches film. He wants to be good. It’s just a process that he has to rely on his physical gifts more than he does. Sometimes he overthinks what’s happening out there on the field before it does happen, in terms of coverages, what’s the (defensive back) going to do? But if he just relies on his physical ability, just haul a-- and run, the DB will be in his hands, for lack of a better word.”
Name, position: Donte Moncrief, wide receiver (24-years old until August)
Measurements: 6-foot-2, 216-pounds, with 32 3/8-inch arms. Ran a 4.40-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Injury history: Unrelated hamstring and shoulder injuries cost him stretches of 2016, and Moncrief missed the last four games of the 2017 season with an ankle injury, but was able to practice occasionally. He is assumed to be healthy for the upcoming offseason.
Experience: Four seasons (53 of 64 possible games played)
2017 snap count, key stat: Moncrief placed second on the Colts offense in wide receiver snaps (613), trailing only T.Y. Hilton (926). Moncrief excels on critical downs: on third down, he has completed 53 of 84 career targets (63-percent) for 43 first down conversions. In the red zone (inside opponents’ 20-yard line), he has caught 20 of 32 passes (62.5-percent) for a dozen touchdowns.
If you want a receiver who plays with a prototypical height-weight-speed combination then this is your guy. Hamstrung by poor quarterback play in the wake of Andrew Luck’s career-threatening shoulder injury, Moncrief has toiled away for the Colts despite boasting rare explosion and raw speed for a player of his size. The Colts have since blown up everything around him include their coaching staff and front office. Moncrief could stay in Indianapolis for a reboot, but it makes more sense for him to get into a new, stable environment. At such a young age (24, younger than some of this year’s rookies), he’s got plenty of time to change his brand and earn a big payday.
Moncrief has an insane amount of talent that is just waiting to be unlocked. pic.twitter.com/wFrUYj9jfr— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) February 1, 2018
Moncrief offers a quick fix for the biggest problems the Saints faced last year: namely their ineptitude on drive-sustaining third downs and touchdown-clinching plays. Given his age and athletic ability, he definitely looks like someone that Saints receivers coach Curtis Johnson could maximize. Even if Moncrief doesn’t become the Robin to Michael Thomas’s Batman, he could still be a highly effective role player in the way that Ted Ginn Jr became last year. I haven’t seen his 2017 results yet, but Matt Harmon’s Reception Perception project showed that Moncrief performed like a top fifteen route-runner versus man, zone, and press coverage in 2016.
The Colts have something like $77-million in salary cap space, so they can outbid any offers Moncrief gets. The question is whether second-year general manager Chris Ballard and first-year head coach Frank Reich want to bother with Moncrief or let one of the other 11 wideouts rostered for 2018 have a shot. Should Moncrief leave, he would be an immediate candidate for a one-year contract at low cost to reestablish himself as a dominant talent - think of him as a Diet version of Alshon Jeffery.