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Big Expectations Follow Colston, Rice

Jan 22, 2010 – 12:30 PM
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Thomas George

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Marques Colston and Sidney Rice

The NFC championship game features two big receivers who were once big question marks. It provides a laboratory for NFL personnel evaluators -- is bigger better overall at the position? And it will enhance a growing belief in the league that, at a minimum, size matters more in your outside receivers compared with your inside ones.

It is a clash where Minnesota's Sidney Rice and New Orleans' Marques Colston will provide significant impact.

Which will stand tallest?

Both are 6-foot-4.

Rice weighs 202 pounds and Colston weighs 23 pounds more. Rice, 23, is in his third NFL season. Colston, 26, is in his fourth. Rice was a second-round pick, No. 44-overall from South Carolina in 2007. Colston was a seventh-round pick, No. 252-overall from Hofstra in 2006.

Both receivers fluctuated from the bench to the field in their initial seasons. Both have benefited from seasoned quarterbacks, offensive-minded head coaches, and offensive systems and multiple weapons surrounding them that accentuate their talents.

Both are humble yet hungry.

"If you are able to get healthy in this league, and you are able to prepare as a professional, you can have success,'' Colston said. "You are always trying to defeat doubts. They can creep in from a lot of places.''

Breaking it Down
A pair of veteran cornerbacks offer their scouting reports on Rice and Colston:

On Rice:

Ty Law:
"He is one of those long striders with good speed and body control. He gives you that downfield spark. He is able to find the ball on deep routes similar to Randy Moss. His body control highlights who he is. He goes up after it. I would try to get him at the line of scrimmage. My advantage would be to jam him. He wants no part of contact; he wants to run free and downfield and catch deep passes. I think of him as a thin guy who likes to run. You have to get hands on him early and keep him from gaining his flow.''

Ike Taylor: "His speed is not that great to me. He is more deceptive than anything. Great body skills and body control. I would want to bump-and-run against him and try to throw him off and throw off his timing with the quarterback. When you let him run free, that is a big advantage to him. In bump coverage you are usually going to get a slant or fade route. If you are successful with the bump, then they will start back fading you. Just kill his timing and take it from there.''

On Colston:

Law: "Big. More of a physical guy but has some of the same attributes as Rice. But Colston plays stronger. He is more of an intermediate route-running guy but he can go downfield. He is probably a more complete receiver than Rice right now because he can go inside and outside. This is a big guy who will go out and block in the run game. You have to respect that. I would love to play him in a physical way, but you have to pick your spots with that. He likes contact. He wants to body you. He's got pretty good hands. He is a little tricky. He's a tough matchup.''

Taylor: "He is similar to Rice. But they use him in the slot, too. His height and size is a problem for any matchup with a linebacker, safety or smaller nickel back. Regardless of most situations, he has an advantage. And he is often a great decoy factor for them because he draws so much attention and they use that to kill you with other guys.''
Colston knows the Saints considered cutting him as a rookie, that he was a long-shot draft choice. They surmised he was unable to utilize his size, that he was too awkward -- as one scout described it, "a deer on ice.'' Rice heard it, too, that he was a big guy and a big waste of talent who lacked confidence and consistency.

"You have to get your mind right to be a success in the league,'' Rice said. "That's what happened to me this season in this offense. I found a place in it and they found out what I can really bring in it.''

Big targets. Big upsides.

"I think you are seeing in the league an extension of the New England Patriots' model that receivers are basically labeled as inside our outside,'' an NFL scout said. "The inside receiver is a smaller guy who runs option routes, catches balls in traffic, plants that foot and breaks. The outside receiver is the bigger guy who runs outs, digs, go-routes and posts. So, it's inside, outside with receivers and that is how the league is beginning to identify receivers in the draft, in free agency, and in determining their value.

"You watch Colston and you are not blown away by his speed. But he has proved that a lot of people swung and missed on him. He makes difficult catches and makes them easily. Rice attacks the football when it is in the air as good as any receiver in the league. A ball high up in the air is usually his ball. And the thing that both have going for them right now is great trust from their quarterbacks.''

Rice made 83 catches this season, Colston 70. Rice averaged 15.8 yards per catch, Colston 15.3. Rice made eight touchdown catches, Colston nine. Rice scored a Vikings playoff-record three touchdown grabs in their divisional playoff victory over Dallas. Colston made six catches and scored once in his team's divisional playoff victory over Arizona.

"Both of these receivers are late bloomers who have really come into their own,'' an NFL general manager said. "They have matured physically as well as in confidence. They have benefited from pro coaching and from being in the right place at the right time. You have to get it right between the ears -- both guys have now. You get that kind of talent mixed with confidence and in a good system and that equals very good players.''

Both receivers credit part of their development to the tutoring of their quarterbacks. For Rice, Brett Favre has been a mentor. For Colston, Drew Brees has been the same.

Rice explained: "From the start of this season, Brett has been telling me that no one can cover me all day, and that he is going to be looking my way a lot. He got me to believe more in some things that I already thought I did about myself. There is a lot of trust there on both ends. When you have a quarterback and a receiver clicking, that is where it starts.''

Which receiver would you now draft first?

Some NFL talent evaluators say Rice is the top choice because he is faster and is the better athlete. Others say Colston is because of his intelligence and productivity.

"Really, it's splitting hairs there,'' an NFL scout said. "You can't go wrong with either guy.''

The receiver with the bigger game in this NFC title bout will win it for his team. Bank on it.

"Every quarterback needs a little help,'' an NFL general manager said. "Every pass he throws is not going to be a great pass. With these two guys, the quarterback can throw to an area and believe it will be caught. I expect both of these receivers to make great catches in this game. They're big. They're good.''
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