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Skill Position Players Need To Shine For 2019 Colts

NFL: SEP 09 Bengals at Colts Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

If you asked most people who they thought of when you mentioned the Colts’ offense, it would be a safe bet that Andrew Luck’s name would come up more than any other. With his page in Colts history turned, the team will need more from every facet of the team. Despite the improvements on defense, the offense will need to be effective to win games in 2019, and that means big contributions from the skill players.

The book hasn’t been written yet on Jacoby Brissett. Ask 10 people what he’s capable of and you’ll get 10 different opinions. While there is reason to believe that Frank Reich will get everything out of him that is possible, we simply don’t know if that is good enough to make him a quality starter. What we do know, is that the burden is on the skill players to make things happen. Yards after the catch are a sure way to win with Jacoby Brissett under center. Strong play from the skill positions will make Brissett’s job far easier.

So let’s take a look at what we need to see from these groups. For our purposes I will be primarily looking at the starters.

Wide Receivers

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T.Y. Hilton

The Colts’ standout receiver has been consistently good since his entrance into the league back in 2012. He played through a handful of injuries down the stretch in 2018, and yet he was still a major factor on the offense.

A polished route runner who can find the seams in coverage or straight up blow past defenders, Hilton is a leader on the offense and a player the team will need to count on to win football games. Despite lacking the prototypical size of a number one receiver, Hilton gets the job done week in and week out, and though his connection with Andrew Luck was truly special and will be missed, he’ll need to develop a strong chemistry with Brissett early to get the offense humming.

2018 Stats: 1270 yards, 6 touchdowns

Projected Stats: 1,100 yards, 6 touchdowns

Devin Funchess

Funchess comes to the team from the Panthers and, similarly to Eric Ebron, has struggled with inconsistent hands. His time as the top receiver in Carolina didn’t work out well, and with a banged up Cam Newton, maybe he never had a chance. Here in Indianapolis he has a chance for a restart, and they’ll need him to show out.

Funchess is a good route runner and has ridiculous size, looking more like a move tight end than a receiver. With versatility to be a big slot or play the outside, Funchess gives Brissett another big target to go to. The red zone may be Funchess’ biggest impact area, where he’ll provide a matchup nightmare for corners who will already be sweating Eric Ebron.

2018 Stats: 549 yards, 4 touchdowns

Projected Stats: 600 yards, 5 touchdowns

Parris Campbell

The rookie out of Ohio State looked the part of an NFL receiver early in camp before being sidelined with a hamstring injury. Campbell’s role might be even more important in the wake of Andrew Luck’s retirement. While Campbell would have added a new dynamic to the offense regardless, his ability to make plays after the catch is something the offense has lacked, and having a player who allows Reich to get the ball out of Brissett’s hands quickly while also piling up big gains is a major help. Campbell is due for a big rookie campaign.

2018 Stats: N/A

Projected Stats: 650 yards 5 touchdowns

Tight Ends

NFL: NOV 25 Dolphins at Colts Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Jack Doyle

Doyle spent most of 2018 on the training table, and his return should be a big bump in terms of blocking as well as in the intermediate passing game. Doyle is about as reliable as they get, and proved a versatile playmaker for the Colts. He leads a crowded tight end room that will get lots of looks in Frank Reich’s offense. Often Luck’s security blanket, he fulfilled much the same role for Brissett in 2017, when he led the team in receptions. 2019 should be another good year for him.

2018 Stats: 245 yards, 2 touchdowns (Just 6 games played)

Projected Stats: 600 yards, 4 touchdowns

Eric Ebron

Eric Ebron proved his worth in 2018, putting together a 750 yard, 14 touchdown season. Frank Reich found matchup advantage after matchup advantage and capitalized on it where Ebron was concerned, and there is little reason to think he won’t do the same again in 2019. If you run back Ebron’s impressive season on film, what you’ll notice is that he was frequently set up to succeed from the start.

When offenses are at their best, that is exactly what they do, and Brissett has connected time and again with Ebron throughout camp in those same kinds of situations. They’ll need Ebron to be a red zone mismatch again this year, because that was an area of struggle for Brissett in 2017. He looks primed to be just that.

2018 Stats: 750 yards, 14 touchdowns

Projected Stats: 700 yards, 9 touchdowns

Running Backs

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Marlon Mack

I said several weeks ago that I think Marlon Mack could very possibly finish the season as high as 3rd in the league in rushing yards. Luck leaving might make that a tougher accomplishment, but I still think he has that capability. Down the stretch Mack looked excellent and was running behind a line that was giving him huge running lanes to work with.

The Colts have stated the importance of the run game in their offense since OTAs, and Mack will get the lion’s share of the work. His big play ability and his speed should serve him well, as should a second year in Reich’s offense. The biggest question is whether he can up his game in pass protection, which Brissett will need, as he tends to hold on to the ball.

2018 Stats: 908 rushing yards, 103 receiving yards, 10 touchdowns

Projected Stats: 1250 rushing yards, 250 receiving yards, 11 touchdowns

Nyheim Hines

If you watched Colts training camp this year, one thing you saw a lot of was Nyheim Hines with the ball in his hands. That is because they ran with him a lot, and passed to him even more. The speedy 3rd down back has the ability to effectively do both, and Reich loved using him as a receiver in 2018.

In fact, he trailed only Eric Ebron and T.Y. Hilton in receptions last year, and even though there are more mouths to feed, the expectation is that Hines will still play a substantial role in the offensive attack. After working in the offseason with the NC State track team, Hines looks faster, which may be a bigger benefit as a receiver than as a runner. He has had an unremarkable preseason, but the Colts need him to be a factor once the games count.

2018 Stats: 314 rushing yards, 425 receiving yards, 4 touchdowns

Projected Stats: 400 rushing yards, 550 receiving yards, 5 touchdowns