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Bye Bye T.Y.? Looking at T.Y. Hilton's Role in the Colts' Offense

Very talented wide receiver T.Y. Hilton is the third receiver on the Indianapolis Colts' depth chart and playing in an offense that will be a base two receiver set. What will Hilton's role in the offense be? Will we be saying "Bye Bye T.Y." because he burns defenders or because he's not on the field enough?

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, rookie wide receiver T.Y. Hilton burst onto the scene, catching 50 passes for 861 yards (17.2 yards per catch) and 7 touchdowns in 15 games. He was a huge part of an incredibly successful rookie class for the Colts last year, led by his quarterback, Andrew Luck.

He was the team's third string receiver last year, but he was the second most productive one - even leading the team in touchdown receptions with 7. While Reggie Wayne led the team with 106 catches and 1,355 yards (adding 5 scores too), Donnie Avery had 60 catches for 781 yards and 3 touchdowns, and T.Y. Hilton had 50 catches for 861 yards and 7 scores. Hilton led the team with 17.2 yards per reception and finished first in touchdowns as well, second in yards, and third in receptions. And that was all as the team's third string wideout, as Hilton played behind Wayne and Avery.

This year once again, Hilton figures to be the team's third string wide receiver, behind Wayne again and free agent signing Darrius Heyward-Bey. DHB is definitely an upgrade over Avery, Reggie is still Reggie, and the Colts have a new offensive system that is more of a run based offense and based in a shorter passing game.

All of that has led many local and national media, Colts fans, and fantasy football players to wonder about whether T.Y. Hilton, clearly their second best receiver, will get enough playing time this year. After all, many reason, he's not the team's first or second wide receiver.

Let me just say to stop your worrying and look at the facts - the play on the field. And when you actually watch this team, you'll see that there is absolutely no reason to worry about T.Y. Hilton's role.

Put the question of who should be starting aside, because it's going to be DHB. Just face it. I too think that Hilton should be starting over him, but he won't be and we have to realize that. And really, DHB hasn't done anything to lose his job in preseason games this year, it's just that Hilton has been better. DHB has done what the Colts want him to and I'm very happy with what he has contributed to the offense and how he has looked so far. Even though I don't think DHB should be starting above T.Y. Hilton, I'm not really going to complain about it and really don't think it matters as much as most people do. In fact, it's really not as big of an issue as it has been made out to be - except perhaps for fantasy football fans playing in a PPR league (points per reception).

Here's why I'm not too worried - T.Y. Hilton will get his chances in this offense and he will be a major player in this offense. We've seen that CLEARLY this preseason. In 3 games, Hilton has caught 7 passes for 114 yards and 3 scores, averaging 16.3 yards per reception. He has been targeted 10 times. He caught a 45-yard touchdown pass from Matt Hasselbeck in the first game, another 20+ yard touchdown pass - the area he excelled at last year (6 of his 7 touchdown receptions were longer than 20 yards).

His 7 receptions are tied for second on the team this season, behind only Reggie Wayne (11) and tied with DHB and Griff Whalen. He has the second most receiving yardage of any Colts receiver this preseason with 114, behind only Reggie Wayne (121); and his yards per catch total ranks 3rd behind two guys with a much smaller sample size (Coby Fleener is first with 2 catches for 32 yards (18.5 YPC) and Justice Cunningham is second with 1 catch for 17 yards). And he leads the team in touchdown receptions with 3, catching a scoring pass in all 3 games and accounting for 3 of the team's 5 touchdowns through the air.

As good as he was last year, he still had his limitations - namely, drops. This year, he has shown a ton of improvement and looks truly poised for a huge season. In camp and preseason, I can't remember seeing Hilton drop a pass and, if he has, it has been very few and not critical. He has been a big play guy all along and has seen extensive playing time with both the first and second team offenses. And perhaps the most impressive thing about T.Y. Hilton so far that I have seen is his timing with Andrew Luck. It's nearly perfect, it seems. Luck has incredible timing with both Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton, and it's just not there yet with DHB - something that is totally expected but should give Hilton yet another reason to be on the field.

So of course, Hilton is going to play a big role this year, and I even recently put him 11th on my list of the 13 most important players for the Colts this year.

The concerns so far, though, haven't really been about Hilton's talent but about Hilton's role. While I would hope that just the numbers I stated earlier about Hilton's preseason would be good enough to convince people that Hilton will be a major part, it's probably not good enough for some. So let's just consider it a bit further.

Pep Hamilton's offense has the reputation amongst Colts fans of being a run first, power run team that has a shorter passing game running from a two tight end set with a fullback often. That's what a lot of people think of in their minds. And, certainly, there is truth to that.

I too was concerned this offseason about whether Hilton would seem out of place in this offense, as a big play deep threat in a short passing game offense. But as soon as I saw him on the field and saw how the Colts are using him, my questions were immediately quelled and I am now really excited to see him this year.

Yeah, this offense is rooted in a shorter passing game and it will be a lot different than the offense last year. That's obvious. But that doesn't mean that they will force Hilton into that offense or that they will limit his down the field opportunities. Take this past Saturday's game, where Hilton was targeted 4 times (catching 2 of them). 1 of those targets was deep down the field, actually the only pass that Luck attempted over 20 yards down the field. Look at the way the Colts used Hilton in the other preseason games and in training camp as well, and you'll see that while Hilton isn't going downfield every single play, he is getting plenty of chances down the field. And with Andrew Luck's arm, T.Y. Hilton's speed, and the timing the two of them share, they will make the most of those opportunities.

There are also two other main areas that I noticed just from this past Saturday's game as to how Hilton will be used in this offense - and I'm sure there are more ways as well.

The first is as a way to get Reggie Wayne open. On one specific play, a third down, Hilton was lined up wide left, with Reggie Wayne in the slot on the right side of the field. Reggie ran a short crossing route underneath while at the same time T.Y. took off on a go route. Hilton drew the coverage on that side of the field just deep enough to let Reggie Wayne slip underneath and pick up a big first down. Hilton commands such respect when going deep that it will open up the field for other guys like, say, Reggie Wayne. I know that people are primarily concerned with Hilton's direct production, and rightfully so, but when looking at his role in the offense I feel that is important to consider as well.

Secondly, on the touchdown pass from Luck to Hilton early in the third quarter, it was a good illustration on how the Colts can make shorter passes to Hilton work too. The Colts were at the 8 yard line and ran a 3 wide receiver bunch formation to the right, with Reggie, DHB, and Hilton. Reggie and DHB both took off to the end zone, while Hilton ran an out route towards the right sideline. Luck hit the wide open Hilton in the flat and the receiver took it the rest of the way for the score. On that play, the other receivers helped get T.Y. Hilton open.

So even though T.Y. Hilton is the team's third wide receiver right now, he's not going to be treated as such. Kind of like the running back position, it doesn't matter as much who the official "starter" is. What matters is the amount of playing time and the production. And after watching training camp and three preseason gams so far, I can tell you that T.Y. Hilton will get plenty of opportunities and playing time and that he is absolutely good enough to take advantage of them.

I don't think Hilton will get as many catches as Reggie or DHB, but he will get his yards and his touchdowns. A 1,000 yard season approaching 10 touchdowns isn't out of reach and shouldn't be considered as such by anybody.

People have grown accustomed to saying "Bye Bye T.Y." when he gets behind defenders and trots into the end zone. Some people have feared that we would be saying it because he won't be on the field as much. And I'm here to tell you that he'll be on the field plenty, contributing a lot.

Instead of saying "Bye Bye T.Y." to the receiver because of his role in the offense, he's here to stay and he's here to be a major contributor so we'd better be saying hello and getting used to him. Well, that is until he's blowing by another defender on his way to the end zone. Then we'll be saying "Bye Bye T.Y.," and that moment will be sooner rather than later.