After an underwhelming 2013 season, the Saints’ all-time receiving leader has been all but forgotten in the public eye. In his place is quarterback Drew Brees’ younger set of pass-catchers such as Brandin Cooks, Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills.
But there is reason to believe that Colston will look like his old self in 2014. Using his 6’4” frame to punish corners without a nagging foot injury holding him back, he should emerge yet again as Brees’ favorite target at wide receiver.
Battling a foot injury throughout the start of the season, 2013 looked like the beginning of the end for Colston—he had a career-low 62.9 receiving yards per game. He had his fewest receiving yards since 2008 at 943. He had his fewest touchdowns since 2008 at five. It looked like the 31-year-old receiver would gradually be phased out for Cooks and Stills in the twilight of his career.
Colston’s offseason is countering that sentiment. He said the foot issue is now in the past, per Ramon Antonio Vargas of The Advocate.
In fact, Colston is now healthier and in better shape than before, according to Mike Nabors of Cox Sports TV.
Colston missing an extended period of time is rare, but he always seems to be fighting an injury. If he truly is healthy this season, the lethal receiver the Saints had from Week 10 to the playoffs last year could be there for all 16 games in 2014.
Yes, despite the career lows in his statistics, the rumors of Colston’s 2013 demise have been largely exaggerated. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Colston posted a 0.4 overall rating from Week 1 through Week 9. From Week 10 to the Saints’ last playoff game, Colston turned on the switch, as he posted a 14.5 overall rating. That scorching finish lifted him to a top-10 ranking among wide receivers. Not bad for a player who is supposedly over the hill.
Those stats translate to 98 catches, 1,216 yards receiving and eight touchdowns over a 16-game season. That’s certainly the line of a No. 1 wide receiver.
Although a season like that is a bit ambitious due to New Orleans’ developing core of young targets, Colston still has the veteran savvy and mismatch ability to be a featured weapon in its offense. Jeff Duncan of NOLA.com wrote about the traits that still make Colston a special player.
I've always maintained that Colston...is one of the most underrated players in the NFL and one of the most under-appreciated by fans, primarily because many of his assets—instincts; route-running; reading the defense—are inconspicuous or intangible. It's easy to see Colston drop a pass in traffic. What's less obvious are the subtle decisions he makes as a player, when he makes an adept read on a play, adjusts the planned route and finds a hole in the defense for a key third-down catch.
Colston certainly isn’t Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green or Julio Jones—his deep speed, and consequently his yards per catch, has diminished rapidly over the past couple of seasons. But just like Anquan Boldin’s career is being extended due to his physicality and sure hands, Colston’s will extend due to his ability to thrive inside and outside the numbers. That being 6’4” thing is nice, too.
The probability of Colston returning to his 2012 self would be much higher on a receiver-starved team like the Carolina Panthers or the Cleveland Browns. When Brees isn’t throwing strikes to Stills deep this season, he’ll have Graham and Cooks to work with in the short-to-intermediate game. He certainly doesn’t lack for options, so where’s room for Colston in the passing game?
The Brees-to-Colston connection will remain strong due to their eight seasons of experience together. Besides Robert Meachem, Colston is the only receiver on New Orleans’ roster with more than a season’s worth of NFL game experience, which tips the scale in his favor even more. As promising as Cooks is, receivers of his size rarely hit the ground running in the NFL, and he is bound to have some rookie hiccups just like Stills did last season.
Plus, the Saints love to spread the wealth around. In 2013, they were the first team in NFL history to field four players who caught 70 or more passes, according to Elias Sports Bureau. One of those four, Darren Sproles, is now gone. Cooks and Stills are bound to take some of those targets, but don’t rule out a healthy Colston to get additional looks, either.
Colston’s improved health, along with his seniority and the departure of Sproles, makes him a prime bounce-back candidate for 2014. Jason Schandl of NumberFire agrees, especially when it comes to his touchdown numbers. He noted that the Saints ranked fifth in red-zone passing attempts last year, while Colston is seventh in red-zone receiving yards and touchdowns since 2009. New Orleans throws a lot near the goal line, and Colston catches it a lot near the goal line—that’s an easy formula for racking up touchdowns.
The presence of Colston should make the Saints much more efficient in the red zone this year and even more so during the playoffs—Colston caught 11 balls for 144 yards and a touchdown versus the Seattle Seahawks’ feared Legion of Boom secondary.
If Colston can be that type of player over the course of a full season, he should easily surpass 1,000 yards receiving for the seventh time in his professional career, get 80 receptions and grab eight or nine touchdowns along the way.
That’s a typical Colston line that fans outside of New Orleans haven’t noticed for years—it’s about time we recognize Colston’s quiet greatness, because he won’t be going away any time soon.