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TY Hilton (Part I) : The Historical Perspective

6a0134865674e5970c017c34b60427970b Last year, two rookie wide receivers finished as top-30 players at their position: Justin Blackmon (#28) of the Jacksonville Jaguars, the draft’s top rookie-WR, and T.Y. Hilton (#24) of the Indianapolis Colts, the small-school third-round speedster whom almost no one anticipated to make an immediate fantasy (or “real-life”) football impact.

Not only did Hilton outperform Blackmon, but he had a rookie season that places him in a certain pantheon of big-game receivers. Since the league expanded the regular season to sixteen games in 1978, only four WRs in their first season have had four or more games of at least 100 yards receiving and one receiving touchdown. The four faces on this particular fantasy Mount Rushmore? Anquan Boldin (with five such games), Randy Moss (four), Anthony Carter (four) and now T.Y. Hilton (four). If Hilton’s career turns out to be anything like the careers of the other three, Hilton may as well be inducted now into the Dynasty Hall of Fame, considering the value he presents to the lucky schmuck who grabbed him off of waivers last year.

Here is a chart detailing the career accomplishments of the established “4 100-yard + TD” WRs, with the stats provided by www.pro-football-reference.com.

Name Rookie Year Years in NFL Rookie Ranking Top-10 Years Top-20 Years Top-30 Years Career T30 %
Anthony Carter 1985 11 16 3 4 8 72.73
Randy Moss 1998 14 1 9 11 11 78.57
Anquan Boldin 2003 10 4 3 5 7 70
T.Y. Hilton 2012 1 24 1
Averages sans Hilton 11.67 7 5 6.67 8.67 74.29

Over the course of their careers, the members of this big-game triumvirate have all managed to record top-30 years in at least 70% of their seasons, and their collective average of top-30 success is a robust 74.29%. If that kind of consistency fails to give you fantasy daydreams, not much will.

Of the three “4 100-yard + TD” WRs, Carter is the most comparable to the diminutive Hilton, not only in size (Carter played at 5’11” and 168 lbs.) but also in expectation and production. Moss and Boldin were both picked on the first day of their respective drafts, and their teams (and thus fantasy owners) had hopes for their futures. Carter, however, was speculatively picked by the Dolphins in the 12th round of the 1983 draft—since he had decided to play in the USFL. Although Carter was a two-year star in the ill-fated league, some people questioned how his game would translate to the NFL when he signed in 1985 with the Dolphins (who traded him to the Vikings). As a result, Carter was likely available in many leagues at a discount not only to his future NFL production but also his prior USFL production. Once he got on an NFL field, though, he became a fulltime starter and provided the Vikings with nine straight years of consistent production, finishing as a top-30 WR eight times before spending two more non-productive, twilight years with the Detroit Lions. Given the low expectations that fantasy (and NFL teams) would have had for him and the paltry investment required to obtain him as a rookie (off of waivers), Carter’s production provided incredible value to his dynasty teams. Although Carter’s career was perhaps less impressive than Boldin’s and certainly less impressive than Moss’s, it was also the most valuable. Carter was a dollar bought for a nickel. Boldin and Moss were dollars bought for a dime and a quarter.

Last year, T.Y. Hilton—as the 2012 draft’s thirteenth WR, taken after such “luminaries” as DeVier Posey and T.J. Graham and available on many dynasty waiver wires at the season’s beginning—provided a dollar on the pennies. The question is whether one should continue to hold him as an investment for the future. I believe the answer is unequivocally yes. Even if Hilton does have only “Anthony Carter upside,” not too many people would turn down top-30 production for seven of the next eight years, especially when Hilton throws in the potential for some top-10 and top-20 years.

Additionally, Hilton’s top-30 positional finish as a rookie strongly suggests that he will have future career success. From 1978 to 2011, exactly 51 rookie WRs have enjoyed top-30 positional success, and their collective post-rookie record speaks well for Hilton’s potential. Here is a chart detailing the career accomplishments of the established “Top-30 rookie” WRs, with the stats again provided by www.pro-football-reference.com. Out of all 51 of these rookies, only 6 became eventual “dynasty teases”—players who never again recorded a top-30 finish after their initial rookie success.

Name Rookie Year Years in NFL Rookie Ranking Top-10 Years Top-20 Years Top-30 Years Career T30 %
Derrick Gaffney 1978 8 27 0 0 1 12.5
John Jefferson 1978 8 1 3 4 4 50
James Lofton 1978 16 12 6 10 12 75
Jerry Butler 1979 7 26 0 1 4 57.14
Cris Collinsworth 1981 8 9 2 6 6 75
Charlie Brown 1982 6 3 2 2 3 50
Willie Gault 1983 11 12 0 2 4 36.37
Stephone Paige 1983 9 30 1 4 6 66.67
Bobby L. Johnson 1984 3 19 0 1 1 33.33
Daryl Turner 1984 4 15 1 2 2 50
Louis Lipps 1984 9 10 2 4 4 44.44
Eddie Brown 1985 7 7 2 4 5 71.43
Anthony Carter 1985 11 16 3 4 8 72.73
Jerry Rice 1985 20 22 12 14 16 80
Mike Sherrard 1986 9 29 0 0 2 22.22
Ernest Givins (WR) 1986 6 13 1 3 3 50
Ernest Givins (TE) 4 4 4 4 100
Bill Brooks 1986 11 9 1 2 8 72.23
Brian Blades 1988 11 24 0 2 6 54.55
Tim Brown 1988 17 26 6 10 11 64.71
Hart Lee Dykes 1989 2 28 0 0 1 50
Andre Rison 1989 12 30 4 6 7 58.33
Calvin Williams 1990 7 22 1 1 3 42.857
Fred Barnett 1990 8 18 1 3 4 50
Lawrence Dawsey 1991 7 26 0 0 1 14.29
Darnay Scott 1994 8 20 0 2 3 37.5
Chris Sanders 1995 7 22 0 0 1 14.29
Joey Galloway 1995 16 14 3 6 8 50
Eddie Kennison 1996 13 17 0 3 5 38.46
Terry Glenn 1996 12 14 0 4 6 50
Keyshawn Johnson 1996 11 22 1 2 9 81.82
Marvin Harrison 1996 13 21 8 8 10 76.92
Randy Moss 1998 14 1 9 11 11 78.51
Kevin Johnson 1999 7 17 0 2 2 28.57
Chris Chambers 2001 10 30 1 2 5 50
Anquan Boldin 2003 10 4 3 5 7 70
Andre Johnson 2003 10 23 4 5 8 80
Michael Clayton 2004 8 13 0 1 1 12.5
Roy E. Williams 2004 8 29 1 1 3 37.5
Lee Evans 2004 8 24 1 1 4 50
Larry Fitzgerald 2004 9 30 5 6 8 88.89
Marques Colston 2006 7 14 1 6 6 85.71
Dwayne Bowe 2007 6 24 1 3 4 66.67
Eddie Royal 2008 5 20 0 1 1 20
DeSean Jackson 2008 5 29 1 2 4 80
Percy Harvin 2009 4 25 1 1 3 75
Hakeem Nicks 2009 4 29 1 1 3 75
Mike Wallace 2009 4 28 2 2 4 100
Mike Williams 2010 3 11 0 2 2 66.67
A.J. Green 2011 2 14 1 2 2 100
Julio Jones 2011 2 17 1 2 2 100
Torrey Smith 2011 2 23 0 0 2 100
Averages 8.33 19 1.84 3.27 4.82 57.88
1+ Post-R T30 Year 86.27%
2+ Post-R T30 Years 73.17%

Although this cohort of 51 does not have quite the same sterling career numbers as “The Big-Game Triumvirate,” the large sample size of this group provides a sense of security. While only 57.88% of these players’ seasons produce top-30 positional years, many of the “useless” seasons are those in which players were injured, nearing the end of their careers, or finishing outside of but not far from the top 30. In other words, this collection of players is quite impressive, and some of the non-top-30 seasons are not wholly useless.

On average, a top-30 rookie WR can be expected to produce close to 4 more top-30 finishes in the next 7 or so years. Furthermore, 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. In other words, the average is not skewed by all-time greats like Rice and Moss. The average top-30 rookie has between an 8 and 9 out of 10 chance of having another top-30 finish later. Those are odds almost anybody would take. 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. Predictable production with room for massive upside—and, with Hilton, all available at a discounted rate? Oh my, yes, yes, yes.

But so much for the historical context. What about Hilton’s current position as a second-year WR on the Luck-led, Arians-less Colts?—what does that mean for his future? I address this in Part 2.

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