Tempering Expectations for T.Y. Hilton in 2013

T.Y. Hilton Fantasy 2013

T.Y HiltonEugene “T.Y.” Hilton burst onto the fantasy football scene in 2012 with an 861-yard, seven-touchdown rookie campaign for the Colts. That production has Hilton rated by many as a top-35 fantasy wide receiver ahead of the 2013 season, with some even elevating him to WR2 status in standard 12-team leagues. But with a lot of changes on the offensive side of the ball in Indianapolis this offseason, I’m pumping the breaks a little on Hilton’s outlook for the coming year.

The most notable change for the Indianapolis Colts is the departure of offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who landed the head coaching job in Arizona. Under Arians’ tutelage, Indianapolis had a top-10 offense in 2012, including a passing unit that averaged more attempts per game than all but five other teams in the league. Arians’ vertical passing system was a natural fit for Hilton, whose greatest strengths lie in his incredible speed and ability to break big plays. Five of Hilton’s seven touchdowns last season came from more than 35 yards out, and his ten longest pass plays accounted for more than 50% of his total receiving yardage for the year. While that kind of big-play potential is always enticing to fantasy owners, too much reliance on breaking “the big one” can also translates to a feast-or-famine type of player that is hard to rely on from week to week.

Pep Hamilton takes the reins of the Colts offense in 2013, after spending two years calling plays at Stanford, including the 2011 season when Colts quarterback Andrew Luck was under center in Palo Alto. Hamilton’s scheme in Indianapolis will likely be similar to the West Coast system Luck ran at Stanford, with a reliance on high-percentage intermediate routes. The running game is also a staple of Hamilton’s offense, as he looks to put pressure on opposing defenses while setting up the play-action pass. In his two seasons at Stanford, Hamilton’s teams rushed 54.2% (2011) and 55.9% (2012) of the time, a stark contrast to the less than 40% run rate of the Colts in 2012. Indy’s signing of Ahmad Bradshaw in June further demonstrates the team’s intent to improve its rushing attack this season.

An emphasis on the running game and the potential for fewer down-field looks reduce the likelihood of Hilton matching his rookie numbers this season. Also working against him is Hamilton’s penchant for spreading the ball between wide receivers and tight ends. From 2011 through 2012, Stanford receivers caught 206 passes for 2,585 yards and 15 touchdowns. Meanwhile, Cardinal tight ends had 179 receptions for 2,647 yards and 30 touchdowns. This should translate to more opportunities for Coby Fleener – another former pupil of Hamilton’s at Stanford – and Dwayne Allen, at the expense of Colts receivers not named Reggie Wayne. Additionally, Hilton will have to compete with free agent signee Darrius Heyward-Bey for targets. The former Raider never lived up to his first-round draft pick status in Oakland, but his skill set is similar to Hilton’s and the two could split time when the Colts operate out of two-wide receiver sets.

T.Y. Hilton was a great story in 2012, but fantasy owners should be cautious about paying for last year’s stats at this year’s draft. The Colts offense, while still potent, will likely have a decidedly different look in 2013. And without knowing exactly how Hilton will fit into that new offense, it’s risky to go into the season depending on him to be an every-week fantasy starter.

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