Best of the Firsts, No. 30: Reggie Wayne
As part of our offseason coverage, we’re taking a look back at some of the best first-round draft picks since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. We’ll work our way up the draft board, starting with the best selection made with the No. 32 pick and ending with the top No. 1 pick. Track all the choices here.
The No. 30 Pick: Reggie Wayne, 2001, Indianapolis Colts
His Credentials: 862 career catches (15th-best all time) for 11,708 yards and 73 touchdowns; five-time Pro Bowl pick; three-time All-Pro; Super Bowl XLI champion
Others in Consideration: Patrick Kerney (1999, Falcons), Heath Miller (2005, Steelers), Joseph Addai (2006, Colts)
No offense to Kerney, who had 81.5 career sacks and was the NFC Defensive Player of the Year in 2007, but this slot belongs to Wayne. There’s no telling what the future holds for Wayne, an unrestricted free agent, but the marriage between he and the Colts over the past 11 years has been a remarkable one.
Wayne eased his way into the lineup in his rookie season of 2001, picking up nine starts and catching 27 passes from Peyton Manning. It didn’t take long after that for Wayne to become Manning’s favorite target.
From 2004-11 Wayne averaged just shy of 90 catches per season and three times (2007, ’09, ’10) topped the century mark, with a high of 111 grabs in 2010. During that span he also had seven 1,000-yard seasons — the lone outlier is this past year, when Wayne managed 75 receptions and 960 yards despite the likes of Curtis Painter, Dan Orlovsky and Kerry Collins throwing him passes on a 2-14 team.
And lest there’s any concern that Wayne’s just a regular-season player, his postseason stats of 83 catches, nine touchdowns and more than 1,000 yards should erase that.
Wayne’s 53-yard TD in Super Bowl XLI got the Colts on the board and helped them answer Devin Hester’s game-opening 92-yard kickoff return for a score. His best playoff performance, though, came during the 2004 season. In a Wild-Card round game against Denver, Wayne made 10 catches for 221 yards — that’s the third-most yards ever gained by a wide receiver in playoff history, behind only Anthony Carter (227) and Eric Moulds (240).
The looming issue now is where Wayne will continue his NFL career. With the Colts on the verge of rebuilding and in a tenuous spot with regards to the salary cap, Wayne could take his high-priced talent elsewhere.
What will that mean for the twilight of Wayne’s career and his legacy in the NFL? It may depend on where he winds up, but there are some important milestones on the horizon. Wayne needs 138 more catches to reach 1,000 for his career, while he’s just 89 catches away, as things stand right now, from being among the top-10 pass-catchers in league history.
Can he reach those milestones without Manning slinging passes in his direction? His 2011 production hints that he can, but a sudden and dramatic drop-off should Wayne part from Manning and the Colts could lead some to label him a “system wide receiver” — a product of Manning’s ability to run the Indy offense.
Whether that’s true or not, there’s no disputing that Wayne has been one of the most consistent and productive receivers in recent memory. And he turned into an absolute steal at the No. 30 pick.