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I largely ignored T.Y. Hilton this summer because fantasy footballers seemed to value him as an every-week starter — or something close to it — and as much as I wanted to agree, I couldn’t.
The Colts’ coaching staff had for months dug in their heels and insisted that Darrius Heyward-Bey was the team’s No. 2 wideout opposite Reggie Wayne. And so it came to pass: DHB played ahead of Hilton, who displayed eye-popping after-the-catch explosiveness during his rookie year and throughout the preseason.
It was maddening, sure, but it was reality. Hilton’s fantasy owners suffered accordingly, watching their guy post four points or less in five of Indy’s first seven games. Thrown in the mix were two otherworldly performances against Miami and Seattle in which Hilton piled up 264 yards and two touchdowns on 11 receptions.
I’m firmly of the mind that those days of infuriating inconsistency are over for Hilton. Andrew Luck has to do something with the 26 percent of throws that went Reggie Wayne’s way in September and October. Colts head coach Chuck Pagano is on the record as saying Heyward-Bey’s won’t change dramatically, leaving Hilton and — to a lesser extent — Coby Fleener as the beneficiaries of Wayne’s absence.
DHB has run more pass routes than Hilton in six of the Colts’ seven games, even after losing snaps in at least two games due to lingering and in-game injuries. Hilton, in fact, has played around six out of every 10 Indianapolis offensive snaps — precisely the sort of limited playing time that made him at least slightly overvalued in August drafts.
Hilton was drafted at the end of the sixth round, before Cecil Shorts and Josh Gordon.
It shouldn’t come as much of a shock that Hilton’s fantasy points per route run (FPPRR), calculated with Pro Football Focus‘s data, has stayed at a steady .27. Wayne’s FPPRR, for the record, was .24. DHB has posted an FPPRR of .14.
That’s where the math has made me bullish on Hilton as a borderline top-12 weekly option for the remainder of the 2013 season. He has run an average of 30.7 pass routes per contest, while Wayne ran 37 routes a game.
If Hilton can maintain his .27 FPPRR — and I think he can with more targets likely — and run those 37 routes per week, his weekly output should be 10 points, up from the 8.2 expected points from before Wayne’s season-ending ACL tear.
That not-insignificant 1.8 point increase isn’t the only reason I’m high on Hiton’s rest-of-season prospects. An anonymous NFL personnel executive told USA Today this week that he expected Hilton to take a “frontline, prominent role” in the Colts’ suddenly Wayne-less offensive attack. Anyone who has admired Hilton’s sure hands and elusiveness in the open field would agree. I certainly do.
Some have pointed to Hilton’s disturbingly low 52 percent catch percentage as reason for caution in the wake of Wayne’s injury. That percentage, after all, if lower than more than 50 qualifying wide receivers, according to PFF.
Context is important. Hilton’s catch percentage can, in large part, be explained by his usage as a deep threat. In fact, 28.8 percent of Hilton’s 2013 targets have come at least 20 yards downfield. Only three pass catchers — Torrey Smith, Rueben Randle, and Stephen Hill — have posted higher deep target percentages.
Deep ball threats, as you know, aren’t known for mechanical efficiency.
The FPPRR-calculated 10 points per game (in standard leagues) would make Hilton a bottom end WR1, alongside the likes of Eric Decker, Brandon Marshall, Josh Gordon, and Antonio Brown.
It’s clear from the churning of fantasy footballers on Twitter that not everyone values Hilton as a top-12 option, opening the door for you to “buy low” — if that’s the right term — on a guy who will benefit from a considerable opportunity spike over the season’s final nine games.
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