Disclaimer: Almost every statistic in this article was compiled using Pro Football Focus.
Take your pick of the second-year players on the Colts who could breakout this season.
Everybody has their favorites. Mine is T.Y. Hilton.
Despite some inconsistent play, he's coming off a superb rookie season based on raw numbers, compiling 927 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. Donnie Avery signed with Kansas City and won't be stealing looks from him anymore. And it's fair to say he'll be on the field for more than 61.2 percent of all offensive snaps, like he was in 2012.
There are a lot of signs that he'll become a vital weapon in the Colts offense in 2013, including the growth of Andrew Luck at quarterback. But Hilton still has issues to work out.
For instance, Hilton was one of the worst wide receivers in the league last season when it came to drops. On just 101 targets, he dropped 12 catchable passes. That tied with Avery for the third-worst drop rate (16.67) among wide receivers who played at least 25 percent of their team's snaps.
It's pretty clear that when you're as bad as Donnie Avery at something in the NFL, you have to fix it. Quickly. And fortunately, Hilton knows that.
"I have to work on my drops. I had way too many of them last year. That’s not like me," said Hilton. "Every day, I’m catching a lot of balls. I catch them before and after practice. I’m making sure I get my catches. Throughout the week, I make sure I have no drops.
Drops turned Hilton into an up-and-down player. Even though he had five 100-yard receiving games, Pro Football Focus punished him for mounting mistakes, giving him a -4.3 grade for the season.
It's easy to be critical of Hilton's errors on the field, even though he was a rookie But maybe that's a sign of the expectations he created for himself last season. In spurts, he showed he had the ability to be a dynamic play-maker. All you have to do is replay his 70-yard touchdown against the Texans in Week 17 to get that message.
And now that he's entering his sophomore campaign, those spurts have to turn into consistent performances every game.
I still can't predict how Pep Hamilton will run his offense or how he'll utilize Hilton compared to Bruce Arians, but I think it's safe to say Hilton will run more routes inside 20 yards. The problem is that plays away from his strengths.
Hilton was targeted 22 times on passes thrown over 20 yards last season, catching 10 of them and dropping two. Those 10 catches went for 383 yards and six touchdowns with only two interceptions.
Not bad, right? Those numbers gave Hilton a 45.5 percent catch rate on 20+ yard passes, making him one of the top-12 deep threats last season. It's a credit to Hilton and Luck that they had this much success considering the terrible state of the Colts offensive line.
But now we come to Hilton's play on shorter routes. This is where his inconsistency creeps up.
Hilton was targeted 33 times on passes inside 10 yards. He caught only 18 of them, dropping six of them. As good as he was down the field, his production took a nosedive as he ran closer to line of scrimmage. Part of this is also on Andrew Luck, but it's more so an indication of where Hilton can improve the most.
With Avery gone, he should have every opportunity to do that, considering the stats below:
AVERY: 118 TA, 62 receptions, 52.5 catch %, 793 yards, three TDs, 14 dropped passes
WAYNE: 196 TA, 115 receptions, 58.7 catch %, 1469 yards, five TDs, 10 dropped passes
HILTON: 101 TA, 58 receptions, 57.4 catch %, 927 yards, seven TDs, 12 dropped passes
It's almost a certainty that Andrew Luck won't attempt as many passes as he did in 2012. But Hilton's continued growth as a second-year receiver should make him the second-most targeted player in the offense behind Wayne. He's simply a better player right now than Darrius Heyward-Bey and deserves more playing time and targets.
A lot of this will depend on Hamilton scheming Hilton in a way to best utilize his talents. That means he'll have to put him in position downfield to make plays instead of turning him into a do-everything receiver that he might not be ready to become just yet, or ever. We'll get a better idea in the next few months of how the new offensive coordinator for the Colts will accomplish that.
Until then, be excited for what Hilton can bring to the offense this season. He's one of many second-year players that can turn it into a top-10 unit.