If Andrew Luck was the most impressive rookie for the Colts in 2012, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton wasn't far behind. Luck was expected to be great (though his success greatly exceeded expectations), but Hilton didn't enter the season with the same level of expectations.
This year, however, those expectations are there. After scoring 8 total touchdowns last year (7 of which were over 20 yards), fans, media, players, and coaches all are expecting "Bye Bye T.Y." to have a big impact on the 2013 season, which is why he appears on our list at number 11. He needs to be a big contributor, and all indications are that he will.
Consider that last season as a rookie, Hilton was the team's third wide receiver and caught 50 passes for 861 yards and 7 scores in 15 games (1 start). This year, he's still the team's third wide receiver but figures to see even more opportunities in the Colts' passing attack.
The most impressive player of camp this year, Hilton also was the most impressive player in the first preseason game against the Bills. He caught 3 passes for 61 yards and an incredible 45-yard score, where he dove for a Matt Hasselbeck pass and continued on into the end zone on a slide.
People will be quick to point out two things when talking about Hilton as reasons to think he may take a step back. One is that Hilton struggled with inconsistency last year, and two is that in Pep Hamilton's new offense rooted in shorter passing game, how will Hilton fit in? Well, first off, those saying that Hilton was inconsistent last year and left a lot of plays on the field are absolutely correct. His drop rate was tied with Donnie Avery's last season for the third worst in the NFL (16.7%) and he did indeed leave a lot of plays out there that he should have made. That said, he has been perhaps the most consistent receiver in camp catching the ball, except for possibly Griff Whalen. Hilton has made every catch expected of him in camp so far and has been the second most reliable receiver behind Reggie Wayne. Directly tying in to that too is the fact that in this offense, he is getting plenty of opportunities and even more than I initially thought he would.
I too worried about how Hilton would fit in to Hamilton's offense, but those fears were very quickly dissipated as I watched camp. Hilton will definitely get his share of opportunities, and while he may not get the number of catches that some may like, he definitely should get the yardage, scores, and overall production that we expect - and very possibly even more. He's the Colts' big play guy, their home run hitter, and he has shown in camp that he can indeed fill that role.
Added to all of that is the fact that he is the team's punt returner and he becomes even more important. He showed last year that he is more than capable of that role and he had a nice return in the first preseason game as well before being replaced. He broke a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown against the Bills last year, and if he can do that again a few times this year, that would be a huge added bonus. Really, for the Colts this year, they just want to limit the bad plays in the return game. To really get a positive boost from Hilton, well, that would be tremendous and just another reason why he is one of the most important Colts in 2013.
Several of his teammates agree that T.Y. Hilton is something special:
Quarterback Andrew Luck: "He's a phenomenal football player. He's going to make plays. That's why he's out on the field. I don't know if I've come to, when you expect [big plays like the touchdown reception against Buffalo Sunday], it's not as special. It's still special when someone makes a play like that. That's special. But you do sort of say, ‘Alright T.Y.' He's going to do something special when he's on the field. He has that factor to him."
Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck: "I think T.Y. Hilton can be really special as a receiver, and I've been around a lot of receivers. He's a guy I see who could be poised to break out."
Wide Receiver Reggie Wayne: "He's young but he's a professional, he's what you want in a young guy. He's in meetings asking questions, writing down notes, making sure he's on the right page with Andrew. He's doing everything right. T.Y. is constantly just growing and growing, that's all you can ask for."
Tight end Coby Fleener: "There's not too many things that T.Y. can't do. Something you can't teach is his speed. It's impressive to watch him on a daily basis to see him improving, and improving and see it all come together."
Head coach Chuck Pagano: "He's a mismatch problem. You say he's too small to play outside, but you can put him outside and they can go try to press him and cover and it's hard for any defensive back to get their hands on him. He's been making those plays all through training camp."
Pagano also has said that Hilton is "going to become an elite guy," high praise for the second-year wide receiver. But with what Hilton has said himself, that "the game is slowing down for me, so now I can just play fast," and from watching him on the field both last year and this camp and preseason so far, that might be more realistic than many think. Whether or not he becomes elite, there's no doubt that to this Colts team, he already is, and that he is one of the most important players for the Colts going into the 2013 season.
Check out our list counting down the 13 most important players to the Colts' success in 2013:
11. T.Y. Hilton, wide receiver