Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

26 Sep 2006

That (other) Saints rookie

Six months ago, Marques Colston ran the gauntlet drill at the scouting combine and dropped a bunch of passes. Already a Day Two prospect at best, Colston fell off many teams' draft boards.

Last night, Colston caught seven passes for 97 yards. He caught the 28-yard pass (on third-and-8) that led to the Saints first offensive touchdown. He converted a 3rd-and-6 to help set up a second quarter field goal. He caught a 29-yard pass to start the second half, leading to another field goal.

In the season opener, Colston caught four passes, all of them for first downs, one for the touchdown that made the difference in a 19-14 win. Against the Packers, he broke a 20-20 tie with a 35-yard touchdown catch, shielding a much smaller defender from the ball with his 6-foot-4 frame. Colston has caught 15 passes, 11 for first downs. The seventh round pick from Hofstra was so good that the Saints traded Donte Stallworth to make room for him. "He's playing very well, and he's going to get better as a rookie," Drew Brees said of his new favorite third-down target.

So what was a Rookie of the Year candidate doing sitting around in the seventh round of the draft? That gauntlet drill had a lot to do with it. Colston ran a 4.43 second 40-yard dash at the Combine, but the drops scared some scouts away. Colston's so-so effort at the Shrine Game was also a factor: he earned a rep as a player who timed faster than he played. In Pro Football Weekly's draft preview, Nolan Nawrocki said that Colston would take plays off when he wasn't the primary receiver. And of course, level of competition is a factor for a king-sized prospect who dominated I-AA opponents.

About once per month, I get an e-mail asking how a team could overlook an obviously talented prospect. I usually respond that there are just too many variables that can impact a player's evaluation. Scouts can break down every play of an individual's college career, but that information only takes you so far. Did Colston post up some I-AA cornerback? So what: he won't be able to do that in the pros. Or will he? Did he jog through a route when he was supposed to be a decoy? Maybe he's lazy and immature. Or maybe his concentration waned after four seasons as a man among boys. The same thing happens at the off-season workouts. Maybe he was overwhelmed by the Shrine Game experience. Maybe he just had an off day when he dropped those passes. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

And maybe Colston is now as good as he'll ever get. It's only three weeks into the season, and opponents don't have a lot of film on the Saints. In a few weeks, they might figure Colston out, learn how to jam him, jump his favorite routes. Then it will be up to Colston to adapt. That's what separates great players from rookies on a hot streak: the ability to develop after opponents adjust to you. No amount of college scouting can tell how a player will adjust.

Colston knows there's work to be done. "I'm nowhere near the finished product I want to be," he said last week. I be keeping an eye on him throughout the season – he's now on my fantasy team. If he's still a Rookie of the Year candidate by Thanksgiving, then Colston, Sean Payton, and the Saints organization deserve a great deal of credit. It's tough to look past a bunch of dropped passes and find a talented receiver.

Posted by: Mike Tanier on 26 Sep 2006