After a turbulent start to his NFL career, second year wide receiver Griff Whalen has quickly emerged as a legitimate weapon for an Indianapolis Colts offense still acclimatizing to life without veteran superstar Reggie Wayne.
Signed by the Colts as an undrafted free agent in 2012, Whalen’s rookie year was over before it began; a preseason foot injury left him on the sidelines for the remainder of the year. During that time, Whalen watched from afar as fellow Stanford alumni Andrew Luck and Coby Fleener, featured in a surprisingly potent rookie-led offense, developed under the tutelage of the vastly experienced offensive coordinator and now Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians.
More hurdles were thrown Whalen’s way in 2013. His position on the active roster at the beginning of the season was purely a numbers game, with fellow second year wide-out LaVon Brazill serving a four-game suspension due to a violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. Whalen was cut following Brazill’s return, but was quickly signed to the practice squad after impressing the Colts’ coaching staff. He was activated once again after Wayne’s season-ending ACL injury during the Week 7 victory over the Denver Broncos.
Following a second spell on the practice squad, Whalen returned to the active roster in Week 15 against the Houston Texans and started to offer a glimpse of the potential at his disposal. A career high 45 receiving yards and first touchdown catch against the Texans was followed by an 80-yard day in the impressive 23-7 road victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, a game in which Whalen led the Colts in receiving yards and receptions. His fine run of form continued in the 30-10 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 17, adding a second touchdown catch in three weeks.
Whalen’s recent success can be largely attributed to the level of comfort and trust he shares with his former college roommate, Luck. With Brazill and the recently activated rookie Da’Rick Rogers still finding their feet in the league, Whalen has become a viable second option alongside the sure-handed T.Y Hilton. After Wayne’s injury, Hilton became the subject of double coverage, as opposing teams recognized him to be the only receiving threat on the Colts’ roster. If Whalen continues to produce at such a high level in the postseason, defenses will be forced to account for him, which will attract attention away from Hilton. Whalen can also offer a safe third down option for his quarterback, a role previously occupied by the injured Wayne.
If the Colts are to mount a legitimate playoff run, one of the young members of the receiving corps must step up and share the load with Hilton, and judging by his play over the last month of the regular season, Whalen is ready to take that step.