Why T.Y. Hilton is Primed For a Fantasy Football 2020 Bounce Back - Roto Street Journal
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Why T.Y. Hilton is Primed For a Fantasy Football 2020 Bounce Back

Attacking running backs early before addressing receiver in the middle rounds is a popular fantasy football draft strategy this year given the vast depth at wideout. Established veterans like Keenan Allen, Tyler Lockett, and Robert Woods, along with ascending youngsters like Terry McLaurin, D.K. Metcalf, and D.J. Chark, are often lasting until rounds five and six. For the record, I fully endorse this fantasy football strategy, but for it to work, you need to hit on those mid-round picks.

T.Y. Hilton falls into this group of receivers and is someone you should target in fantasy football drafts. The four-time Pro Bowler is going several rounds later than he typically has in past years, and this is being driven by a handful of concerns.

INJURIES

Injuries derailed Hilton’s 2019 season. It started in Week 3 when he aggravated his quad against the Falcons and would miss the following contest versus the Raiders. Hilton was used as a decoy in Week 5 at Kansas City before the team’s Week 6 bye. He played and was effective in weeks 7 and 8 but then suffered a “fluky” calf tear in practice leading up to the Colts’ Week 9 contest at Pittsburgh. The Ghost would miss the next three games before attempting to return in Week 12 at Houston. He suffered a setback and missed the next two games before returning in Week 15.

At this point, Hilton still wasn’t 100% and neither was Brissett, whose effectiveness fell off after a Week 9 MCL sprain. Hilton didn’t begin to resemble himself again until Week 17, when he posted 72 yards at Jacksonville, his most since Week 7.

Backing up to 2018, Hilton missed two games in the first half of the season with back and hamstring injuries, but he played through high and low ankle sprains later in the year and was extremely productive. Hilton averaged 120 yards per contest over his final seven regular season games and finished 2018 with 76 catches, 1,270 yards, and six touchdowns.

Prior to 2019, Hilton never missed more than two games in a season and didn’t miss a contest from 2015 through 2017. The veteran believes his injury-plagued season was just a bump in the road, not a sign of things to come.

“I mean, they were kind of fluky. I got hurt in practice running a route that I had just ran. So I was running it and it just kind of like popped – so just kind of fluky. Then the injury two years ago with the low and the high ankle sprain on the same ankle – I mean, you don’t really see that if you see it at all. It’s kind of fluky, but like I said it’s not Madden. You can’t cut injuries off and things happen, but I’m looking to bounce back.”

Hilton, who has kept a chip on his shoulder since he came into the league as a third-round pick in 2012, said he’s using his disappointing 2019 season as extra motivation.

“I’m self-motivated, but that definitely did something to me,” Hilton told the media in May. “It added motivation to me. I missed a lot of games last year and that’s something that can’t happen because my teammates need me on the field. So I’m doing everything I can. Like I said, I’m working out twice a day, just continuing to grind, continuing to get better, and when it’s time for us to get back out there, everybody’s going to feel me.”

NEW FACES

Hilton quickly emerged as a star with quarterback Andrew Luck. In five seasons together between 2013 and 2018, Hilton averaged 80 catches, 1,254 yards and 5.8 touchdowns per year. Those numbers would have made him the WR12 last season in full PPR leagues. But with longtime Chargers gunslinger Philip Rivers taking over during an offseason impacted by COVID-19, some are concerned about Hilton’s ability to produce with an unfamiliar quarterback.

The Colts are confident that Rivers’ familiarity with head coach Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni from their time together in San Diego will make for a smooth transition. That familiarity, along with the opportunity to throw to Hilton behind one of the league’s best offensive lines, were big selling points for Rivers in free agency. In fact, Sirianni recalled Rivers mentioning Hilton tearing the Chargers apart in 2016 after signing his contract with Indianapolis.

“We talked about that and then Philip saying – that was one thing he said when he signed and we were able to talk to him like, ‘Man, remember that game in 2016? T.Y. was a nightmare.’ I think not only the familiarity with Frank (Reich) and I and the system. It’s more so even – and Jason (Michael) obviously too, our tight ends coach. But it’s more so the players and the guys that Chris Ballard has put on this football team were really exciting to Philip. Again, Frank has called plays for Philip before and that’s a big dynamic. There’s not a lot of questioning going in. Philip knows how Frank thinks. Frank knows how Philip thinks. That’s something to do with it, but again it’s those five guys up front, T.Y. and not to mention all our other weapons.”

Rivers’ knowledge of the scheme and relationship with the coaching staff cannot be understated during an offseason in which on-field work has been kept to a minimum.

Beyond that, Hilton’s fit with Rivers’ playing style is another reason to be excited about his 2020 fantasy football outlook.

Hilton possesses elite speed and has been one of the league’s premier deep threats for years. Prior to 2019, Hilton averaged a robust 15.97 yards per reception for his career. Then the risk-averse Jacoby Brissett was thrust into a starting role last season, and big plays were all too rare. Among qualifying passers, only Mitch Trubisky and Mason Rudolph averaged fewer yards per attempt than Brissett’s 6.6 in 2019. This greatly impacted Hilton, who averaged a career-low 11.1 YPR last season. Rivers, on the other hand, is more than willing to take deep shots. He averages 7.8 YPA over his 16-year career, including an eyebrow-raising 8.5 YPA in 2018. Rivers is not only an upgrade over Brissett but an excellent match for what Hilton does well.

SCHEME

The Colts’ offense will look drastically different in 2020. Aside from Rivers, Indianapolis’ most notable additions include a pair of second-round picks in receiver Michael Pittman Jr. and running back Jonathan Taylor. After missing a large portion of training camp and his rookie season due to injuries, it’s fair to include 2019 second-round receiver Parris Campbell in this group as well. While all three will be heavily involved in the offense, coaches have made it clear that Hilton is still the unquestioned top option.

“He’s definitely still the main piece of this offense,” said Sirianni. “T.Y. Hilton is who this pass offense runs through. I think about where we’re at – things will be schemed to get him the football. I know he’s worked hard on his body and worked hard through the offseason. He’s our guy. He’s our lead dog. He’s our alpha dog. If he stays healthy the sky is the limit again for him.”

Hilton saw an average of 8.5 targets per game during his first season under Reich in 2018, and even after the QB change, Hilton still saw 8.3 targets per game through the first three weeks of 2019, before injuries set in. At that pace, Hilton would see 136 targets over a 16-game season, which would have tied Travis Kelce for 11th most last year. Since coming to Indianapolis, Reich has used Hilton as his go-to receiver, and that will not change in 2020.

FANTASY FORMULA

Now that we’ve broken down Hilton, his injuries, and the current state of the offense, let’s use the Roto Street Journal Fantasy Stock Formula to evaluate Hilton’s 2020 outlook.

Individual Talent: Hilton has quietly been one of the NFL’s best 10-12 receivers since his second season in the league, and he has the numbers to back it up. With top-end speed, reliable hands, and impeccable route running, Hilton is a handful for even the NFL’s best cornerbacks.

Opportunity/Usage: Hilton has seen WR1 usage in the past, and the Colts’ coaching staff remains adamant that will be the case in 2020. While Indianapolis does have young, talented pass catchers in Pittman Jr. and Campbell, neither are a threat to cut into Hilton’s target share this early in their careers.

Surroundings: Hilton is in a good situation to produce in 2020. He will be featured in a scheme conducted by bright, offensive minds, has a Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback who can deliver him the ball down the field, and is set to play in — from top to bottom — the most talented offense of his career.

Risk/Reward: The risk is clear: injuries. A 30-year-old receiver coming off an injury-marred season can be seen as a risky investment. However, when you factor in the “fluky” nature of Hilton’s in-practice calf tear and the toughness and durability he’s displayed in years past, 2019 starts to look more like an aberration than a growing trend.

The potential reward for betting on a healthy Hilton would be getting a low-end WR1 for the price of a low-end WR2. Hilton is currently being selected as the 22nd receiver off the board on ESPN, with an average draft position of 59.4 overall. The Ghost has consistently averaged low-end WR1 numbers in the past, and will be highly motivated to prove he can still do so as he enters the final year of his contract.

“I feel like the way I’m training, the way my body feels and Philip (Rivers) doing his thing, I feel like this can be an All-Pro year for me,” said Hilton. 

In our 2020 Fantasy Football Big Board & Rankings, Hilton checks in at WR26, right at the consensus.

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