After emerging as a reliable fantasy option in 2013 and 2014, T.Y. Hilton had a lackluster season last year. Now being drafted as WR16 (as of this writing), it seems as if Hilton’s draft position is a hedge between his WR23 finish of last season and his WR11 finish of 2014. But Hilton’s 2016 situation seems much more similar to that of 2014 than last season. His drop-off was due mostly to Andrew Luck missing such a large part of the season and subsequently having to suffer through poor quarterback play.
Luck’s return, however, is just one factor in Hilton’s 2016 outlook. It explains the “premium” between his WR23 finish and his WR16 ADP. But another factor is also at play, one that could make up the gap between WR16 and the WR11 level he achieved just two seasons ago. It stands to reason that Hilton could even surpass that level and become a top-10 wide receiver this year. So whether you think Hilton will improve marginally and be a solid pick, or if you believe he’s a high-ceiling player who will shatter the expectations of his ADP, the pro-Hilton arguments are being categorized into two basic theses.
The Positive Regression Argument
With Luck missing nine games due to injury, Hilton’s overall numbers were down from the 2013 and 2014 seasons. Looking deeper into Hilton’s 2015 numbers, though, shows that he overcame shoddy quarterback play to maintain a high level of efficiency. Hilton’s 16.3 yards per catch nearly matched the 16.4 he had in 2014, meaning that his overall performance was down due to volume.
The Volume Argument
Further speaking to poor quarterback play, Hilton’s catch percentage in 2015 was just 51%, compared to 61% across 2013 and 2014. Assuming the same volume he has received over the last three seasons, his receptions should increase from 2015’s total of 69 to a number in the low-80s. It stands to reason, however, that Hilton should receive more looks in 2016 than he has in any season yet in his career.
161 targets (27% of last season’s total) have left town in the form of Coby Fleener and Andre Johnson. Indianapolis passed 43 fewer times last year than in 2014, something that shouldn’t be surprising from a team that transitioned from Luck to Matt Hasselbeck, Charlie Whitehurst, and Josh Freeman. Their passing volume is much more likely to increase this season than decrease.
Therefore, at least 161 targets (and likely more) are unaccounted for in this offense. Donte Moncrief will get some; surely, Dwayne Allen will up his 29 as the sole tight end, provided he is healthy; and Hilton should get at least a modest bump as well.
Despite being the team leader in target share, Hilton still has room for more targets. Other number one receivers in the league have higher target shares than Hilton’s 22.2% average over the last three seasons. For instance, Mike Evans, who finished 10th in the league in targets last season, had 28% of his team’s total. Considering Indianapolis’ depth chart, 25-28% isn't out of the question for Hilton.
- Hilton is an electric playmaker who has shown that he can be a fantasy asset in the low-end WR1, high-end WR2 range.
- Hilton should expect more targets this season due to departures of key targets from last season.
- Hilton's volume should be of higher quality with Luck returning.
- Hilton has never scored more than seven touchdowns in a season.
- Hilton has never received more than 24.2% of his team's targets.
1+1=3: A "Realistic Ceiling"
Just buying into one theory presented above, Hilton appears to be undervalued at his current ADP. But Hilton’s ceiling incorporates both the regression and the volume arguments. We talked earlier about his catch percentage being 61% with Luck in 2013 and 2014 but 51% last season. So let’s assume a conservative figure of a 60% catch rate to support the regression argument. On the volume side, Hilton has 134, 131, and 139 targets in the last three seasons. If that number increases modestly to just 150, Hilton would catch 90 passes (60% of the 150 targets). For the record, 150 is exactly 25% of Indianapolis’ pass attempts in 2015. This shows that an increased target share is very realistic and also shows that 150 targets could even be a low estimate if the team's total number of pass attemps increases.
At 15 yards per reception (remember, Hilton has averaged over 16 in the last two seasons), Hilton’s 90 receptions would yield 1,350 yards. As shown in the "Negatives" section above, Hilton has never been a dynamic touchdown scorer. Our projectors here at Footballguys have Hilton pegged for an average of 7.5 touchdowns. Even if we round that down to seven to match his career high, 90 receptions for 1,350 yards and seven touchdowns equates to 267 PPR points. Over the last five seasons, that point total would have finished as WR10.6 on average. In 2014, Hilton himself finished with a nearly-identical 82 / 1,345 / 7, which was good for WR12.
Below are the projections from our best-in-the-business projectors: David Dodds, Bob Henry, Jason Wood, and Maurile Tremblay. I've also added lines for the average of those four gentlemen plus a line that incorporates Hilton's ceiling as described above.
As you can see, the projected touchdown total for the "ceiling" projections was bumped to nine to illustrate what Hilton could do if positive touchdown regression blends together with the realistic bump in receptions and yards as described above. These numbers illustrate that Hilton’s ceiling is in the WR7-WR10 range (last year, 279 PPR points would have been good for WR8). Even if owners don't believe the nine touchdowns is achievable, Hilton can be considered a very conservative pick around WR14. At WR16, his “median” outlook is a bargain, and his ceiling is tantalizing. It’s also worth noting that Hilton has missed just one game over the past three seasons combined. Even a great health record can be misleading, though, as Hilton played hurt throughout last season, battling through multiple ailments – the most prominent of which was a knee injury sustained in Week 1. A healthy Hilton, a healthy Luck, and more overall volume for the offense chould lead to great things for Hilton in 2016.
The CBS Sports Staff agrees with the ceiling assessment – at least in terms of yardage. Touchdowns are going to be the difference in Hilton finishing WR14-15 or in the WR10 neighborhood.
With a ceiling of over 1,300 yards and seven touchdowns, you're playing it right if you draft him as a quality No. 2 receiver worth a pick between 24th and 30th overall.
Will Hilton bounce back to be a WR1 again? Signs certainly point to it with a healthy Luck, which could allow owners to grab two top-12 wide receivers in rounds one and three if they opt to wait for a RB in round two of drafts.
Questions, comments, suggestions, and other feedback on this piece are always welcome via e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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