Earth has traveled over 835 million miles around the sun since Andrew Luck last threw a football. The Colts’ franchise quarterback has been reduced to a living, breathing question mark leaving the rest of the fantasy-relevant players in Indianapolis lost in the swirl of uncertainty. Today I’m going to be looking at what we should be doing with T.Y. Hilton.
I’ll be operating under the assumption that last year’s starting QB Jacoby Brissett will get the nod when the season starts. Luck’s availability — which we honestly cannot accurately predict with the information at hand — will not be factored in. Is Hilton a value at his depressed ADP?
AN OPPORTUNITY MIRAGE
If you’re a frequent RotoViz reader, you’ve likely heard that targets are the lifeblood of fantasy scoring for wide receivers. Efficiency matters, but opportunity is an absolute necessity. Heading into the 2018 season, Donte Moncrief, Kamar Aiken, and Frank Gore are gone from last season’s roster, leaving behind a combined 129 targets. Their collective departure also opens up 35 percent of the Colts’ air yards from 2017. On paper, this appears to be a clear positive for Hilton. The addition of Eric Ebron, however, makes that assumption a bit problematic.
Despite being constantly maligned as a drop-prone fantasy failure, Ebron has averaged a healthy 7.8 targets per game in 37 career games. He’s also been more efficient that we probably realize, especially on intermediate targets.
Making assumptions about his potential usage is tricky given the fact he’ll be playing for a new team, but there’s evidence to support the notion he may be heavily involved which we’ll discuss shortly.
Likely starting running back Marlon Mack has proven to be a more than adequate pass-catcher both in college and during his limited time in the NFL. The Colts also drafted Nyheim Hines in the fourth round of this year’s draft. A RB by name but a much more versatile player by trade, Hines has impressed the Colts’ coaches with his pass-catching ability in practices. And fresh off a 106-target season, Jack Doyle presents yet another relatively efficient target at the tight end position for Brissett.
The rest of the WR group is admittedly questionable at best but the additions made in the offseason should make us strongly reconsider any notion that Hilton will automatically see an massive uptick in workload due to roster turnover.
How we view Hilton should at least in some part be based on new head coach Frank Reich. No WR in a Reich-led offense has finished better than WR22 during his four seasons as offensive coordinator in San Diego and Philadelphia.
It’s a small sample but it’s enough to question whether or not Reich’s system is truly made to facilitate a dominant WR1. Looking at his coaching history as a whole from a market share distribution perspective, we see a play-caller that heavily favors the TE position in comparison to 2017 league averages.
TEs have produced four percent more receptions and yards receiving compared to the 2017 league average. They’ve also scored six percent more touchdowns. Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green and Zach Ertz and Trey Burton formed formidable TE duos for Reich in the past. Doyle and Ebron appear to fit the mold.
AGE AND BUILD
Hilton will turn 29 years old in November and is listed at 183 pounds according to the Colts’ official roster. Since 1970, 25 WRs have finished a season with at least 200 PPR points at age 29 weighing 185 pounds or less. Only 7 WRs have done so since 2000. This isn’t to say that Hilton’s age and size doom him to being a completely unusable fantasy asset. Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders are recent examples of smaller, older WRs playing at a very high level. However, history tells us that he would be the exception rather than the rule if we’re expecting a bounce-back season in 2018.
Hilton enters the 2018 season already on the wrong side of the WR age curve. He’ll be running routes in a new offensive system that that has historically targeted WRs less than league average, instead putting a heavy emphasis on the TE position. It just so happens that the Colts have two very intriguing options at the TE position. And to top it off Hilton will still cost you a third-round pick according to MFL10 ADP.
If you’re really itching for a WR in that Round 3/4 range, why not take Alshon Jeffrey or Demaryius Thomas, both of which have offered a higher floor and similar ceiling over the course of their respective careers.