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TY Hilton (Part 2): Present Context


In Part 1, I looked at T.Y. Hilton’s future dynasty prospects through a historical perspective, noting that a few of the statistical benchmarks Hilton hit as a rookie indicated the strong likelihood of post-rookie success.Of particular note is that Hilton finished his rookie year as a top-30 performer at his position. From 1978 to 2011, exactly 51 rookie WRs posted top-30 seasons, and their quite impressive collective post-rookie record speaks well for Hilton’s potential. In Part 1, I provided this analysis:

“86.27% of these top-30 rookies actually do attain post-rookie success, which is why (in part) Mike Williams was such a great buy-low candidate after his horrid second season: his strong rookie season indicated that he would eventually rebound. [. . .] And almost 3 out of every 4 of these players (73.17%) have multiple post-rookie top-30 seasons. For these WRs, post-rookie success is not guaranteed, but for every one player who turns into Michael Clayton, three players turn into Mike Wallace, Marques Colston, and Marvin Harrison.”

Here is where I would like to transition my analysis of Hilton from a historical to an immediate context. Does Hilton’s current position as a second-year #2 WR on the Luck-led, Arians-less Colts reveal any possibilities for his future? I think Hilton’s present situation implies a great deal about his future—and what it implies, specifically, is that Hilton will be the next Colts WR to achieve fantasy greatness, following in the route-running footsteps of Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison before him.

Although I compared Hilton to Anthony Carter in Part 1, here I want to state that I think Marvin Harrison, in fact, is a reasonable estimation of Hilton’s ceiling, and not just because they are both Colts. Hilton is a shorter, faster, and (barely) thicker version of the great route runner who entered the league in 1996. Like Harrison (who had deceptively great long speed), Hilton can get deep on a defense, and Hilton (a deceivingly good and improving route runner) can also operate underneath in tight spaces and against zone coverage. Most pertinently, though, Hilton has the opportunity to play and develop with his generation’s Peyton Manning. Harrison entered the league two years before Manning and played well without him, but not until Manning’s second season did Harrison become Marvin Harrison, moving from a rookie positional ranking of #21 in 1996 to the #1 spot in 1999. Basically, from 1999 till Harrison’s retirement, if you wanted to invest in Peyton Manning without spending the draft pick to get him, you drafted Marvin Harrison in a blatant act of fantasy arbitrage. Now, dynasty players are presented with a similar opportunity. By investing in Hilton, one will receive not only the direct benefits of the second-year WR’s appreciating skills but also the secondary (and long-term) benefits of Andrew Luck’s improvement. Thus, not only will Luck limit Hilton’s downside (how badly could Hilton do with Luck throwing him the ball?), but the QB will also enhance the WR’s upside—just as Manning did with Harrison.

In part, Manning’s second-year development was the impetus for Harrison’s catapult into the ranks of the fantasy elite. As Andrew Luck moves into his second year, Hilton seems poised for a potentially massive breakout. He finished his rookie year—in which he started (really?) only one game—ranked #24 among WRs. What could he, Harrison’s (metaphorical) lineal grandson, possibly do in his star QB’s second year? Hilton will not finish 2013 ranked as the #1 WR, but a top-10 finish is more than feasible, and all bets are off for 2014. Percy Harvin was a top-3 WR for the first half of 2012, his injury-shortened fourth season, and he did that with a second-year Christian Ponder as his QB. Can a third-year Andrew Luck turn the equally explosive T.Y. Hilton into a top-3 WR in his third season? At this point, the reality of that hypothetical scenario is situated somewhere on the continuum between possible and probable. At a minimum, one should not bet against it.

And yet despite Hilton’s production as a rookie, some people still undervalue Hilton and his long-term prospects. Some doubters cite Hilton’s seeming boom-or-bust volatility. Indeed, last year if Hilton did not score a touchdown or rip off a huge chunk of yards in one play, his point total certainly disappointed.

Here is a chart of Hilton’s point totals, by week, for the 15 weeks he was active. Note that the chart is organized in descending point order, for a non-PPR league.

Week Opponent Rec Rec Yds Rec TDs Pts
11 NE 6 100 2 22
3 Jac 4 113 1 17
17 Hou 4 111 1 17
9 Mia 6 102 1 16
15 Hou 3 78 1 13
13 Det 6 100 0 10
14 Ten 2 50 0 5
5 GB 3 37 0 3
6 NYJ 3 31 0 3
8 Ten 5 35 0 3
10 Jac 0 0 0 3
16 KC 2 34 0 3
7 Cle 2 22 0 2
2 Min 1 15 0 1
12 BUF 3 33 1 1

The nine weeks of the season he failed to score ten or more points, Hilton scored five or fewer points per week each week. Ouch. Moving forward, though, with Donnie Avery in Kansas City and Reggie Wayne an aging asset, Hilton will be more consistent as he becomes more central to the Colts’ plans, transitioning from the third WR to the second and, yes, eventually to the first. Think about that: Hilton is now Andrew Luck’s #2 WR, and the #1 WR is in his mid-30s. That fact alone suggests the value Hilton has.

Another reason some people may undervalue Hilton is the departure of last year’s Offensive Coordinator, Bruce Arians, whose vertical passing attack played to one of Hilton’s greatest strengths: his sheer straight-line speed. Without Arians, who is now the Head Coach of the Cardinals, some people may think that Hilton, a burner potentially without a pyrotechnic play-caller, will languish. That’s possible . . . but unlikely.

In a post-Arians world, Hilton is still likely to thrive. Working in his favor is that Arians, the “Wide Receiver Whisperer,” drafted him in the first place. Arians seems to thrive on finding fast/shifty undersized and undervalued WRs in the middle rounds. From 2007 to 2012, spanning his time as the Offensive Coordinator of the Steelers and then the Colts, Arians oversaw the drafting of the following players in Rounds 3-6: Mike Wallace (2009, 3rd round), Emmanual Sanders (2010, 3rd), Antonio Brown (2010, 6th), T.Y. Hilton (2012, 3rd), and LaVon Brazill (2012, 6th). For a guy who swings only at short and slender WRs after the top rounds, Arians hits a lot of homeruns. If Arians thought that Hilton’s career potential was significantly promising enough to warrant selecting him as the first WR taken specifically for Andrew Luck, then fantasy players should pay attention.

Even without Arians, his former WRs have acquitted themselves (sort of) well. In 2012, a year that saw the Steelers organizationally faceplant as Todd Haley took “control” of the offense, Antonio Brown still finished #40 at his position in thirteen games—not great, but fair considering that his speed and shiftiness is inferior to Hilton’s. And Mike Wallace (the post-Arians WR to whom Hilton best compares) finished #25 at his position in what was an aberrational down year due to a missed training camp, an “uninspiring” contract, an ineffective running game, and the generally inept playcalling. Clearly, with the five-year, $60 million contract that Mike Wallace just signed, he is a valuable asset. Bruce Arians won’t be calling plays for him in Miami next season, but not too many people are worried about how he’ll perform moving forward. If his past performance is any indicator of his future potential (he has been a top-30 performer each year since his rookie season), Wallace will do well in the future, and his success suggests some of the same for Hilton.

Like Wallace, Hilton will eventually emerge as a hot commodity in his post-Arians situation, and the wise dynasty player will acquire him before his market value rises. Even if Hilton struggles this upcoming year, he will certainly provide lucrative returns over the life of the investment.

And, unlike Wallace, Hilton has certain advantages in his first year without Arians: 1) Luck is better than Roethlisburger, 2) Hilton’s contract is not an off-the-field distraction, and most importanly 3) Pep Hamilton, the man who is replacing Arians as the OC in Indy, is better than Todd Haley. Luck is familiar with Hamilton from their time together at Stanford, where Hamilton served as a coach for Luck’s last two collegiate seasons. Of note is that, as the WR Coach in 2010, Hamilton helped transform Doug Baldwin (a Ramada to T.Y.’s Hilton) into a productive and almost draftable player. If Luck as a redshirt sophomore could get Baldwin a team-leading 58 receptions, 857 receiving yards, and 9 receiving touchdowns in 13 games under Hamilton’s tutelage, then certainly Luck as a second-year pro can get Hilton those numbers. Yes, in his first year without Arians the second-year WR could struggle—but (barring injury) he won’t.

With an eye toward 2014, the prudent dynasty player will likely choose to acquire Hilton soon, while his value is still low, because Hilton’s 2013 performance (paired with Luck’s year-two leap) could cause others to value Hilton’s post-2013 production at a premium. The smart money is buying Hilton now.

Of course, if one looks at RotoViz’s (excellent) similarity score application for Hilton, one will notice inevitably that a general regression occurs year-over-year for a majority of the comparable players.

Comparables YOY Change Density Plot

download (15)

While I utterly agree with the concept of RotoViz’s similarity scores and value this fantasy innovation, I also believe that they are context-dependent and in some cases represent only a very broad range of possibilities—and in this scenario—in which a top-30 rookie WR, moving into his second year, 1) is transitioning from a part-time/specialty #3 WR to a fulltime starting #2 WR, 2) is paired with a top-10 and solidly professional #1WR to mentor him off the field and draw coverage away from him on it, and 3) is blessed to develop alongside an emerging second-year superstar QB—in a scenario such as this—no true historical comparison exists. The WRs in Rotoviz’s similarity scores do not compare to Hilton in part because none of them played with WRs and QBs possessing the calibers of Reggie Wayne and Andrew Luck. In short, the precise situation in which T.Y. Hilton finds himself is contextually unprecedented.

What seems clear, though, is that Hilton is a long-term dynasty investment, just like the stock that your grandfather bought when he was twenty-five and never sold. Invest in Hilton, and then just sit there and watch the dividends accumulate for years. As long as Hilton is a Colt, ride that horse until it stops running.

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