INDIANAPOLIS — **The Indianapolis Colts utilized a two-tight end formation often during the 2017 season to cater to the versatility of players who could release into pass patterns or stay at home to assist the offensive line.
For the first time in his career, Jack Doyle took the lead role, starting 15 of 16 games (missing just one game due to a concussion and neck injury), and became quarterback Jacoby Brissett’s security blanket early and often — a theme that continued throughout the season. Doyle brought in 80 receptions on the season, good enough to be the team leader in 2017 and the second most by a tight end in a season in franchise history.
The tight end position as a whole caught 34 percent of the team’s 285 total completions, contributing 870 yards to the offense’s total output.
Veteran Brandon Williams — moved up to the No. 2 tight end spot after backup Mo Alie-Cox was shelved for the season with a knee injury — pulled in 13 receptions for 121 yards and was typically Doyle’s partner in crime, starting 10 games — and playing in 14 total — until suffering a scary head injury against the Denver Broncos on *Thursday Night Football *that cost him the final two games of the season.
Rookie tight end Darrell Daniels replaced Williams for the final pair of games, meanwhile, getting the start opposite Doyle against the Baltimore Ravens and Houston Texans.
Here’s a review of the play of the Colts’ tight ends in 2017.
Doyle, a local Indianapolis product who played his high school football for Cathedral, had the most productive game of his career — as well as the best season of his five-year career — in 2017.
In Week 8 at the Cincinnati Bengals, he set single-game career highs in receptions (12) and receiving yards (121) while adding a touchdown catch. Doyle’s 121 receiving yards were the most for a Colts tight end in a game since Coby Fleener finished with 127 against the Washington Redskins on Nov. 30, 2014.
For the year he topped his previous single-season catch total (59) by 21 receptions and his 690 receiving yards bested his previous single-season high by 106 yards.
Williams, a five-year veteran who had previously been more of a special teams standout, also had the best offensive numbers of his career in 2017 with 13 receptions for 121 yards.
But it was a special teams play in front of a national TV audience on Thursday Night Football that would mark the unfortunate end to Williams’ season.
On a routine Colts punt play, Williams, a protector, took what looked to be an innocuous hit to the front of his helmet. But he dropped to the ground, where he stayed for nearly 15 minutes before being carted to the locker room on a stretcher.
Williams suffered a concussion on the play, and after being evaluated at the hospital returned to Lucas Oil Stadium in time to see his coaches and teammates after the game in the locker room — and not before being on the minds of those watching in the nationally-televised matchup.
A Tweet from the Colts’ official Twitter handle that included #PrayersFor85 received 1,311 retweets and nearly 5,000 likes as fans and peers across the world wished Williams well.
He was placed on IR Dec. 22, ending his season two weeks early, but the obvious hope is to see Williams fully healthy and competing once again in 2018.
Darrell Daniels, an undrafted rookie free agent, earned his first NFL start for the Colts at Seattle during Week 4 of the 2017 season. He also started in Weeks 16 and 17, replacing Williams. Daniels logged three receptions for 26 yards and was counted on as an improving blocker throughout the season.
Travis Ross was claimed off waivers from Kansas City on Nov. 28 and saw action in four games, collecting two receptions for 33 yards. Travis, who impressed with his athleticism in limited time with the Colts, made six starts for the Chiefs between 2016 and 2017, playing in a total of 17 games and catching eight passes for 58 yards. Collegiately, Ross played basketball at Penn State from 2011-14 and was a leading rebounder in the Big Ten Conference.
Swoope, another former basketball player making the transition to NFL tight end, had his year derailed by a preseason knee procedure. He spent time practicing with the team in November with hopes of being activated from IR, but the Colts decided against it, instead allowing him to get back to 100 percent.
Jason Vander Laan, a former quarterback at Ferris State who has transitioned to tight end in the NFL, had spent time with the New York Jets since 2016 and the Colts signed him to their practice squad on Nov. 3. He was on the active roster for four games and played special teams, collecting two tackles.
Mo Alie-Cox, who spent time with the Colts during the 2017 offseason and preseason was re-signed to the practice squad in October. He is another basketball-to-football convert, as he started 103 of the 142 basketball games in which he played at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Number to remember
No. 2: Doyle’s 80 receptions were the second-most among all tight ends in the National Football League in 2017. Only Dallas Clark (100 in 2009) has had more receptions in a single season in Colts franchise history.