Let's do a quick blind comparison of two rookie wide receivers:
- Player A: 13 games, 49 targets, 27 receptions, 345 yards (12.8 yards/reception), 0 TDs
- Player B: 11 games, 52 targets, 28 receptions, 424 yards (15.8 yards/reception) 1 TD
Player A is Reggie Wayne in 2001. Player B is Alec Pierce, so far, in 2022.
It's maybe a little easy to forget Wayne's rookie season given his remarkable, Hall-of-Fame worthy career. But two decades ago, Wayne was a highly-drafted wideout who was behind a star running back (Edgerrin James) and a standout wide receiver (Marvin Harrison) on the Colts' pecking order. He had to learn how to go from being "the guy" in college to being "a guy" as an NFL greenhorn.
"That's the welcome to the NFL moment," Wayne said. "I remember me coming in as a rookie, first round draft pick, a lot of expectations, a lot of eyes. But when I got here, it was run heavy, so that's Edgerrin James. Look at the passing game, that's Marvin Harrison. I gotta get the scraps."
The lessons Wayne learned then are now being passed on to Pierce, who after a strong October (31 targets, 21 catches, 312 yards in five games) has just four catches on 12 targets for 51 yards over his last four games.
"He's a rookie. That's what happens," Wayne said. "I think Alec understands he's not the main guy on this offense, not even the main guy in the passing offense. But what he's doing a great job of is playing his role, understanding the opportunities that he gets, he needs to make those opportunities count."
While Pierce's production may have slowed, his playing time has increased – he's played at least 65 percent of the Colts' offensive snaps in each of his last four games after hitting that mark twice in his first seven games. And on those snaps – even the ones where the ball isn't coming Pierce's way – Wayne has seen his rookie wideout still put some good things on tape.
"As a young guy, you just want to continue to move forward, continue to be trustworthy, continue to know your assignment," Wayne said. "Because one thing that we do is we grade you if you got the ball or not. So you don't want to put bad film out there whether it's for your coaches to see or your teammates to see, let alone the rest of the league."
Wayne has seen Pierce remain engaged in meetings and practice – which is usually where he saw players hit the "rookie wall" by zoning out, or letting the wear and tear of the season bring them down mentally and physically. And he acknowledged, too, that it isn't just Pierce's whose production is down – it's the entire Colts' offense. The Colts have run 253 plays in the last four games, 11th out of 18 teams to not have a bye in the last four weeks; on the 2022 season, the Colts are averaging 15.8 points per game, tied with the Houston Texans for the second-lowest rate in the league.
But eventually, because of what he's seen from Pierce behind the scenes and on the game tape, Wayne is confident the 2022 second-round pick will make a consistent impact in the NFL.
"His time will come," Wayne said. "It's a chain of command. That's one thing I realized when I got in the league. I was nowhere close to being first on that ladder.
"... His time will come. The only thing he has to do is keep getting better."
Thursday's practice report: