In Around The NFL's "Making the Leap" series, we spotlight emerging players to keep an eye on in 2016. Whether rising from no-namer to quality starter or vaulting from standout to superstar, each of these individuals is poised to break through in the coming campaign.
Why Moncrief and Dorsett are on the list
Moncrief boasts the physical tools of a No. 1 receiver, measuring 6-foot-2 and 222 pounds with 4.40 speed, a 40-inch vertical and an 11-foot broad jump. He slid to 90th overall in the 2014 NFL Draft due to concerns that he was raw as a route runner and body catcher while playing with underwhelming quarterbacks at Ole Miss.
Although he struggled to earn Luck's trust as a rookie, Moncrief was well on his way to a breakout campaign through October of his second season. Had he not lost his starting quarterback in Week 9, just after running into the shutdown secondaries of Carolina and Denver, his "leap" would have already occurred.
We saw flashes of Cordarrelle Patterson in Moncrief's rookie game film, as a dynamic tackle breaker limited to go routes, slants, crossers, bubble screens and end-arounds. His second season was far more promising, as he bypassed veteran Andre Johnson in the Colts' pecking order while picking up the full route tree.
Moncrief is a do-everything wide receiver with strong run-after-catch ability and DeAndre Hopkins-like physicality and acrobatics near the sideline and in the end zone. What impressed me most on NFL Game Pass, though, were the reliable hands he showed while hauling in passes from a quintet of scattershot Colts quarterbacks.
It didn't take long for the University of Miami star to endear himself to coaches, however. When NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport visited Colts camp last August, he came away with the lasting impression that the entire organization was excited to be adding a superstar. Beyond the obvious speed and playmaking ability in space, the Colts raved about Dorsett's hands, attitude, instincts and football aptitude.
Given that he was drawing comparisons to DeSean Jackson, it was natural to believe Dorsett would be an instant-impact player for an offense that seemed poised to take the league by storm.
Obstacles they'll face
Dorsett simply wasn't ready for a major role entering his first NFL season. He exhibited a case of the yips in the season opener, muffing a pair of punts to go with a fair catch near his own 5-yard line. Though he was an offensive focal point in Week 2, he simply couldn't get on the same page with Luck, who misconnected on a handful of deep throws in Dorsett's direction.
As then-offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton pointed out in 2014, Hamilton's offense put young Colts receivers at a slight disadvantage compared to other rookies, because they had to learn the X, Z, slot and the inside (F) spot in the offense, rather than concentrating on one position. With Dorsett struggling to master the offense, his targets dwindled until he went down with a late-October fractured fibula that sidelined him for the next six weeks. Between the early-season hiccups and the midseason injury, the Colts' first-round pick didn't show signs of paying off until he was featured in the Week 17 game plan.
The obstacles are more concrete for Moncrief, who missed the offseason program while recovering from toe surgery. As long as he's fully healthy entering training camp late this month, he's locked into the No. 2 receiver role.
If he's going to leapfrog Hilton as Luck's go-to target, though, the Colts will have to pull him off of special teams duty. As of late last season, he was still playing the "gunner" role on punts.
Expectations for 2016
When I began this project, I had relatively equal expectations for both receivers. After watching the 2015 game film, though, it's evident that Moncrief is the NFL's premier breakout candidate at the position, while Dorsett is ticketed for the third receiver role.
That's not to say Dorsett won't add playmaking juice to Luck's aerial attack. By the end of last season, new coordinator Rob Chudzinski was fashioning a Brandin Cooks-like role for Dorsett, featuring jet sweeps, bubble screens, quick slants and even a backfield appearance to go with the early-season shot plays downfield.
While Dorsett is the wild card in Indianapolis' offense, Moncrief has already earned Luck's trust, learned to find open spots in zone defenses, reeled in a series of catches with a high degree of difficulty and emerged as the team's best offensive player for stretches of the 2015 season. His outlook is especially promising after he demonstrated an impressive efficiency that belied his quarterbacks' struggles in 2015.
Moncrief should be a lock for his first 1,000-yard campaign, taking advantage of the single coverage provided by Hilton's downfield prowess in an offense that is poised to return to its lofty 2014 heights.