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Is Nyheim Hines the Colts Swiss Army Knife?

Cincinnati Bengals v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty Images

Fans and analysts laughed when Nyheim Hines said a change in his playing number (from 42 to 21) would result in a change of his play. It turns out we were the crazy ones.

Hines struggled mightily in preseason with fumbles and had issues returning punts, something he was expected to do a lot this season. This caused most to believe he would be an afterthought and barely see the field, essentially redshirting the year. However, in week one, he silenced all the doubters with a 5 rush, 7 catch performance for a total of 52 yards. While the numbers won’t blow you away, it’s definitely impressive considering the expectations he had going into the game.

While researching this article, I looked back to the Manning era to see if the Colts ever had a Darren Sproles-like player who can do it all (rush, receive and return). It turns out, while they had some good pass-catching running backs over the years, like Joseph Addai and even Dominic Rhodes, the last time a Colts running back surpassed 55 catches was Edgerrin James in 2000. They’ve never really had that type of player in their offense.

When Frank Reich was the offensive coordinator of the Chargers for two seasons, he had a swiss army knife running back for both of those seasons. In 2014, he had Branden Oliver who averaged over 3 catches per start and in 2015, he had Danny Woodhead who had 80 catches for 755 yards out of the backfield.

In 2016 and 2017 as the offensive coordinator of the Eagles, Reich had Darren Sproles. While he was injured for most of 2017, leaving a pass catching void in their backfield, it showed that Reich likes to have this type of player. Nyheim Hines looks like the early favourite to become this type of player.

Hines, like Sproles and Woodhead, didn’t just make catches out of the backfield. He lined up out wide as a receiver and ran routes, showing very good versatility as a receiver. He also ran great routes. Here he is beating a good linebacker in Preston Brown on an angle route.

Hines ended up playing 37 snaps and touched the ball or was targeted 14 times, for a target/touch percentage of 38%. This is a solid number for a 4th round rookie and it’ll be interesting to track those numbers over the next few weeks.

This could be the start of something different and the Colts were very pleased with his play, as offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni described his performance as a “really bright spot”.

Frank Reich could be trying to turn Nyheim Hines into his Danny Woodhead, Darren Sproles and/or Branden Oliver — a player who can do it all. This type of player has become popular around the NFL over the past 15 years and it seems like a good time for the Colts to board that train.

These type of players create match-up nightmares, as seen in the clip above where Hines juked Preston Brown out of his shoes. We’ve seen from many Patriots players over the years, where they put their backs into favourable situations against linebackers in space — look back to Kevin Faulk, Danny Woodhead, Dion Lewis, and James White. Shifty running backs can create problems in space and now that the Colts have a forward-thinking offensive-minded coach, the team may start catching up to some major NFL offensive trades.

It’s about time, to say the least.