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Reggie Wayne Enters The Final Phase Of His Career

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Wide receiver Reggie Wayne has the chance to solidify his legacy as the heir to Marvin Harrison and arguably the greatest Colts receiver of all time. Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images.
Wide receiver Reggie Wayne has the chance to solidify his legacy as the heir to Marvin Harrison and arguably the greatest Colts receiver of all time. Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images.

There is a storyline for the Indianapolis Colts heading into the 2013 NFL season that is being overlooked. Amidst Andrew Luck’s sophomore year, a new offensive scheme, integrating 11 free agents into the team and other hot topics, no one seems to be paying attention to the fact that this year begins a new phase in Reggie Wayne’s career – a phase that will determine his all-time status as a wide receiver. I’m not talking just about whether he’ll end up the Colts’ most decorated receiver ever, but where he’ll rank among the NFL’s best ever.

After the 2011 season, it seemed Wayne’s career might be going downhill. He recorded the fewest amount of catches and yards in eight years. It turned out the problems were Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky, rather than Wayne’s declining skills. With Luck throwing to him, Wayne’s numbers shot back up to normalcy with 106 catches for 1,355 yards.

But with Wayne entering his 13thNFL season and turning 35 in November, how long can he keep producing at this level? He’s at the point of his career where consistency begins to determine his all-time status.

This is the same time when Marvin Harrison, whom Wayne replaced as the Colts number one receiving option and whose numbers he is chasing, began to steeply decline in production. As a 35-year-old, Harrison missed 11 games due to a knee injury. Not only did his total numbers take a dramatic hit (20 catches, 247 yards, one touchdown), his yards per game dropped from 85.4 the year before to 49.4. The next year, the 13th of his career, was his last as he posted 60 catches for 636 yards and five touchdowns, all the lowest totals of his career besides his injury-plagued campaign the previous year.

Conversely, it was what Jerry Rice did late in his career that boosted him from the best receiver ever to maybe the greatest player ever, regardless of position. Despite missing all but two games in his 13th year as a 35-year-old, Rice came back the following year to make his 12th Pro Bowl while catching 82 balls for 1,157 yards and nine touchdowns. In his 13th season and beyond, Rice caught 499 passes for 6,518 yards and 43 touchdowns and made two Pro Bowls. That included three seasons of at least 82 receptions, 1,139 yards and seven touchdowns. That’s insane for a wide receiver in his late 30s and early 40s.

Had Harrison been able to put up consistently good numbers after turning 35, there’s no doubt he would be largely considered the best wide receiver to ever play football not named Rice.

And so it is time to find out if Wayne can stay productive this late in his career. While he never has put up huge touchdown numbers, Wayne is only 134 receptions and 1,517 yards behind Harrison’s career totals. He needs only two more solid years, or one incredible break-all-my-personal-marks campaign, to pass Harrison and become the franchise’s all-time leader in those categories. And while he’ll never reach the untouchable marks Rice set, Wayne still has a chance to vault himself into the uppermost echelon of receiving greats.

Right now he’s grouped with guys like Art Monk and Andre Reed: great receivers, but not guys you think of when you’re talking about the best of the best. But with consistent, solid production late into his 30s, Wayne can put himself in the same category as Terrell Owens, Randy Moss and Harrison. Sometimes consistency can be your greatest weapon.