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Time to believe in Austin Collie

9/27/2010

The second-most valuable fantasy option among Indianapolis Colts so far has not been Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark or Joseph Addai. It's wide receiver Austin Collie, and every time I see him open and getting a Peyton Manning pass fired his way -- which is happening a ton lately -- I think I'm watching New England Patriots overachiever Wes Welker, another point-per-reception format monster.

Collie is off to a rather historic start to the season, having registered a pair of games with 10 or more receptions and 150 or more yards twice in a team's first three contests, which had not happened since the NFL-AFL merger. In addition, Collie is the first Colt to have a receiving touchdown in each of the team's first three games of a season since 1999, when Marvin Harrison did it. Before that, it had been 38 years since a Colts receiver did it.

And yet, I got the feeling Collie's terrific Week 1 performance in the loss to the Houston Texans and his understated Week 2 outing against the New York Giants were viewed with skepticism, since he was on the bench in 69 percent of ESPN standard leagues Sunday. The news that nominal starter Pierre Garcon, himself active in 13.7 percent of leagues in Week 3, would miss the Week 3 game with a sore hamstring -- he didn't even make the trip to Denver -- was made official Saturday, and resulted in Garcon being dropped in a healthy portion of leagues, but it didn't result in Collie getting enough fantasy attention.

What will it take to get Collie more love? In Week 1 the Colts were trailing big, Garcon wasn't doing much, Manning was going wild and people said it's just one game. OK, so now it's two games of prime numbers after Collie hauled in 12 receptions for 171 yards and a pair of touchdowns Sunday against the Denver Broncos. He has 57 fantasy points in three games, more than not only Wayne, Clark and Addai, but every wide receiver in the league.

Oh, and did I mention Peyton Manning is his quarterback and likes to throw a lot?

While Collie is owned in virtually every league, it's time for fantasy owners to view him similarly to Welker, as someone they can start relying on as a starter. Welker is more diminutive than Collie, but otherwise the similarities are obvious. These wide receivers don't thrive with breaking speed, but reliable hands. They run smart routes, can excel either in the slot or beating their defender out wide and they catch just about everything thrown their way. Collie was targeted 16 times Sunday, and caught 12 of the passes; in the first two weeks, he caught 15 of 16 targets. Last season, Collie hauled in a healthy 67 percent of his targets, and was certainly relevant near the goal line. Just like Welker. While the Patriots' top wide receiver for fantasy is Randy Moss, and the Colts' main guy is Wayne, there's room in top offenses for others to thrive.

On Sunday, there were 29 wide receivers active in more ESPN standard leagues than Collie, including Terrell Owens, Michael Crabtree, Mike Sims-Walker and Dez Bryant. Nothing against those other fellows, but it sure seems like name value is the main reason. I did rank the rookie Bryant well for Week 3, and he didn't do much, but the other players haven't exactly shined, either. Crabtree has seven fantasy points all season. I ranked Collie over him for Week 3, but clearly not enough.

While I'd surely take Welker over Collie, the point is when dealing with dynamic offenses, don't be shy about playing a team's third or fourth option, instead of going with another team's "potential" breakout choice and top dog. Yes, when the Jacksonville Jaguars complete passes through the air, chances are Sims-Walker will be the beneficiary. But in only one of his team's games has Sims-Walker, active in 69.6 percent of leagues in Week 3, caught more than two passes. He was similarly erratic last season, though mostly in road contests. There's no way I'd use Sims-Walker over Collie, unless things change quickly.

Manning and the Colts famously produced a trio of 1,000-yard wide receivers in 2004, with Wayne, Harrison and Brandon Stokley all hitting the mark with ease, and capturing 10 or more touchdown receptions. Had Collie and Garcon not split the 1,400-plus receiving yards last season somewhat evenly, maybe it could have happened again. While I think it's a bit premature to give up on Garcon, for he also has a bright future when healthy, I don't see why the Colts would mess with such a good thing. Collie is their version of Stokley, but better. At this point, it's looking like he's the safest of the Colts' options to get to 1,000 yards and double-digit scores -- though Wayne and Clark should get there, too -- and I expect he'll either be among my top 10 wide receivers this week at Jacksonville, or really close.