Gonzalez gone but not forgotten

MIAMI -- Anthony Gonzalez is excited the Colts are playing in Super Bowl XLIV against the Saints, but it's a bittersweet feeling. The wide receiver would rather be on the field instead of watching.

Gonzalez, who was expected to be a significant part of the offense, injured his knee in Week 1 and missed the rest of the season. He said in an interview with CBSSports.com during media day his knee is "feeling good," and he's on track to return in 2010.

But that doesn't take away the sting of missing the Super Bowl.

"It's an exciting time for the team and everybody out there playing," Gonzalez said. "From that standpoint it's been a lot of fun watching. But obviously it pales in comparison to being able to play. It's been difficult personally."

Gonzalez entered 2009, his third year in the NFL, expecting to have a breakout season. He was replacing the departed Marvin Harrison and starting opposite Reggie Wayne .

When you play with Peyton Manning in the Colts pass-happy offense, good things can happen for wide receivers, and we were excited for Gonzalez as a solid Fantasy option. Only he never caught a pass since he was hurt in the first quarter in Week 1 against Jacksonville.

He kept trying to come back, but his rehab never got him to the point where he could make a healthy return. Eventually, he was put on injured reserve, ending his season.

"It wasn't that it was bad," Gonzalez said. "It just never turned the corner. Now that I've kind of shut it down and had time to just focus on rehab it has really gotten a lot better. It's obviously frustrating because it didn't happen sooner, but there's no question that I'll be back playing next year."

The Colts moved on when Gonzalez got hurt, and Pierre Garcon and rookie Austin Collie came out of nowhere to play well. Garcon, in his second season, had 47 catches for 765 yards and four touchdowns. Collie had 60 catches for 676 yards and seven touchdowns. They were extremely useful for Fantasy owners during the season.

Manning had to trust his young receivers, and they came through. Their learning process was accelerated in one of the most complex passing offenses in the NFL.

"They've been big for us," Wayne said. "They've been stepping up to the plate all year, making things happen. They work so hard. They want to do well. Every time you see them in meetings, they're taking notes and doing whatever it takes to be good. That's all you can ask for, guys that take the time out of their busy schedule and put all the focus into watching film and going on the field and making things happen."

Added tight end Dallas Clark "They've had a huge impact and have done a great job of handling the complexity of the offense. They have handled the pressure of stepping in and making plays. They've done a great job of that all year. It's impressive to see that from young players because it takes a couple of years to feel comfortable. The good thing about them is that they know they have a lot more to learn and a lot more to feel comfortable with, but they've done a great job of handling every situation and adapting to the offense."

The Colts -- and Fantasy owners -- will have a decision to make in 2010 with fitting Gonzalez back into the offense. It's clear he will play a role, but where he falls in the pecking order behind Wayne and Clark is the biggest question.

We believe Gonzalez will return as the third option. Even though Garcon and Collie played well, Gonzalez has proven himself in his first two years.

He was coming off a productive season in 2008 with 57 catches for 664 yards and four touchdowns, and he has the ability to play like a No. 2 Fantasy wide receiver.

"Anthony brought a huge dynamic to our offense," Collie said. "He would be just another threat. He's a tremendous wide receiver. You want more guys like him."

The problem for Gonzalez, Garcon and Collie is they will split playing time and production. Wayne is clearly the No. 1 wide receiver, and Clark is definitely the No. 2 target in the passing game.

After that, Manning will usually throw it to the player who is open. It could be Gonzalez, Garcon or Collie, and that will limit the Fantasy value for each wide receiver.

While we will definitely know more in training camp and as the season gets closer, go into 2010 with each receiver as a No. 3 Fantasy option at best. But if you're pondering which receiver to draft first, our opinion is Gonzalez. He's the most proven member of this trio, and he still has the most potential.

Even though Gonzalez has to sit out the Super Bowl, he's ready to return at a high level in 2010.

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