The Indianapolis Colts selected Cincinnati wide receiver Alec Pierce with the 53rd overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. He was thrown into the fire fairly early with the Colts, as he logged 723 total snaps as a starting receiver in his rookie season.
The results for this young wideout were a bit of a mixed bag, as he had some dazzling highlights marred by some inconsistencies overall. Does he have what it takes to be a number one receiver in the NFL? Let’s look at his rookie season under the microscope to see how he did.
Draft Prospect Profile
Pierce was labeled by many draft sites as a day two wide receiver prospect that excelled vertically down the field. His 17.5 yards per reception in college was among the best in this past draft class, and he displayed his elite ball tracking and catch radius on a weekly basis.
Matt Harmon of Yahoo Sports charted his route success in college and compared him to the profile of DK Metcalf coming into the NFL:
Pierce’s strong NFL Combine performance Cemented his status as a day two pick, as the 6’3″ 211 pound receiver turned the heads of all in attendance. He ran a 4.41 forty yard dash, while also logging a 40.5 inch vertical jump and a 129 inch broad jump. Those are simply elite numbers for a receiver prospect coming into the league.
When the Colts’ selected him in the second round of the draft, he projected to slide into the starting Z receiver spot alongside Michael Pittman Jr on the outside.
Rookie Season Overview
As I mentioned in the intro, Pierce’s rookie season was a bit inconsistent. He finished the season with 41 receptions for 593 yards and two touchdowns. His 593 receiving yards are the seventh-most in Indianapolis Colts’ history by a rookie, while his 41 receptions rank just outside the top ten.
For the good, Pierce was one of the league’s better downfield threats in his sparse targets down the field. There are 15 targets with over 20 air yards, he hauled in seven of them for 243 yards and a touchdown on the year. He also had 11 games this year where he logged at least three receptions, which shows that he was involved in the offense all season long.
For the negative, Pierce only hauled in 53.9% of his targets on the year. Some of that had to do with poor QB play, but Pierce didn’t generate as much separation as you would like to see. He also had four drops on the season, including a dropped touchdown on his first career target back in week one.
Strengths/Areas of Success
Strong Vertical Threat
When you look at how Pierce found success in the NFL as a rookie, it lines up almost perfectly with Matt Harmon’s reception perception of his senior season at Cincinnati. Pierce is a dominant vertical threat that wins with his elite speed, size, and body control.
This is evident on film, as he found a ton of success stretching the field as the Colts’ Lone downfield option in 2022. It is easy to see how inserting a Rookie QB into this offense could help Pierce have more production in 2023.
Here are a few of his receptions of 30+ yards in 2022:
In Breaking Routes
This is another area where the Scouting report was on the money with Alec Pierce. He has to continue to work on his route tree a bit, but he was fairly strong on passes over the middle of the field. Digs and slants were his specialty aside from winning vertically as a rookie.
He could still stand to tighten up his footwork and improve his separation, but these were routes that Pierce can build on going into year two. He was fearless over the middle, and he made some difficult catches in traffic that were great to see in a young player.
Working Back to the QB
An underrated aspect of playing wide receiver in the NFL is finding space and making yourself an outlet for your quarterback. Separation through footwork and skill is one thing, but there is also a lot of effort involved in getting open in this league.
Pierce is already a master at working himself open when the play breaks down. He knows how to make himself a ready and available outlet down the field, which should be huge for the Colts when they insert a young (and hopefully athletic) passer into this offense in 2023.
This play below perfectly encapsulates what I am talking about. Pierce is running a clear out route at the top of the screen. As soon as Sam Ehlinger breaks the pocket, Pierce works back to his quarterback and makes himself available on the sideline. A broken pocket pass turns into an 18 yard gain with ease.
Areas To Improve
Route Tree Mastery
Alec Pierce is a dominant deep Threat that can win over the middle of the field. Outside of that though, he is a bit raw in other routes on the outside. He needs to continue building up that route tree to become a true top receiver in the league.
According to NFL.com’s Next Gen Stats, Pierce only generated 1.9 yards of separation per route run this past season. While he is a great contested catch receiver, he needs to work on his overall footwork and strength to create more next year.
Pierce is already a good receiver at beating press coverage, he just needs to translate that into more separation after the line going forward.
The Rookie Wall
Colts’ WR Coach Reggie Wayne mentioned that Pierce clearly hit the rookie wall at some point during this past season. This isn’t a major concern, but it is something that happened this past year. Here is Wayne’s full quote on Pierce hitting that wall:
I don’t know man. Honestly, I told him earlier this week, I said, ‘Man, you’ve got to climb over that wall.’ Like I kind of really felt like it was a couple of weeks ago, but everybody hits it. Everybody hits it. It’s just now the way that the practices and the way they play football now is structured, it’s more later now than it is when I played. I told him and I told him in front of the receivers, I said, ‘I think you had hit the wall man. You’ve got one more game left. Jump over the wall.’
He looked at me and he shook his head and I said, ‘Hey, it happens with everybody.’ I said, ‘I had hit the coaches wall probably by Week 7 (laughing).’ So, you just have to find a way to keep pushing. But I enjoy being around him. The guy is a hard worker. He wants to be good. They want more involvement. (Expletive), everybody does. I enjoy everything about him. I enjoy just seeing him go out there, work hard and push through. He’s grown a lot. He’s grown a lot from the first day he walked in – hell, from the first time I met him going to see him work out in Cincinnati. That’s Drago man, I call him Drago. He’s going to keep fighting.
The Bottom Line
Alec Pierce is a Talented young receiver that will be Entering a Massive season in 2023. Will he take the next step beyond what he did as a Rookie or will he settle into his role as a one-trick pony for the rest of his career? He showed the positive flashes that he needed to as a rookie, but everything after this becomes extremely important.
From everything that we have seen from this young receiver so far, it is hard to imagine him not taking that next step in 2023. With better QB play and an entire offseason of work, I am extremely confident in the future of Alec Pierce with the Colts.
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