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Film Room: Breaking down Nyheim Hines’ breakout season for the Colts

Hines finally hit his stride as a rusher in 2020

NFL: AFC Wild Card Round-Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

While rookie running back Jonathan Taylor stole the show during the second half of the regular season, there was another running back on the Colts’ roster who put up career numbers in 2020. That running back was fan-favorite Nyheim Hines.

Hines hit career highs in rushing attempts (95), rushing yards (455), yards per carry (4.8), rushing touchdowns (3), receptions (65), receiving yards (490), and receiving touchdowns (4). He also finished as the highest-rated pass-catching running back in the entire NFL according to Pro Football Focus.

So today we are going to look at all the things this dynamic player does for the Colts’ team and why I think this could just be the beginning of a long and consistent career for the young running back.

Still an elite pass catcher

There simply aren’t many running backs in the NFL who can do what Nyheim Hines does out of the backfield for the Colts. The variety of ways that he is used in the passing game is what truly makes him a threat. He can be a major factor in the screen game where his punt returning ability comes into play in the open field. He could be motioned out to the slot where he gets a prime match-up against a much slower linebacker. He can even just be used as a simple check down option who can create after the catch. Whichever way he is used in the passing game, he is one of the best in the NFL to do it (other than pass blocking that is).

It is always fun to watch Hines work in space against linebackers. I rarely fault linebackers for looking foolish in these situations as there probably isn’t a linebacker in the league that can run with Hines. In these two clips, he makes two ascending young linebackers in Roquan Smith and Jayon Brown (respectively) look absolutely foolish in space.

The Colts also got Hines more involved in the passing game outside of the numbers this year which was a nice little wrinkle to the offense. Hines was a receiver early on at NC State and you can see that in how he runs his routes. I’m not saying he would be an elite NFL receiver by any means but if he was to make the transition full time, he has the skill set to be a good slot player. The fact that the Colts have that ability in a running back is extremely vital to the offense. Look at the footwork on this double move for the deep touchdown.

In one of the biggest plays of the season, the Colts targeted Nyheim Hines in a one on one match-up with a top tier cornerback in Jaire Alexander. While this was a designed pick play, the fact that this was their go-to player on fourth and short in a crucial game speaks volumes to Hines’ ability as a pass-catcher.

Improving ability as a ball carrier

Prior to this year, the biggest deficiency in Hines’ game was just consistency as a ball carrier. He was a career 3.8 yards per carry player before this year and that type of production gets you pegged a pass-catcher only type of back. However, we saw a subtle change in how Hines ran the ball in 2020. He became more patient, began seeing the rushing lanes better, and started to produce more big plays. This led to a huge jump in yards per carry production as he finished the year with 4.8 ypc (14th best average in the NFL for backs with over 100 carries).

The vision and ability to set up run lanes for himself was night and day from where he was just a year ago. He looked like a receiver running the ball in his first two seasons in the NFL. This year, he looked like a legit NFL running back with a plan of attack on every rush. This rush is a perfect example as he sets his eyes and feet to the inside to start the play. This gets the defense and linebackers to commit to the interior which creates space on the outside for Hines to attack. Setting up the outside while getting linebackers to commit early was a big part of his game this year.

His improved patience and decisiveness and this along with his elite speed is what truly led to this breakout. It was easy to see that he got to the point late in this season where he wasn’t thinking at all when running the ball and was letting everything come to him from a feel standpoint. He began to react rather than overthink his rushes. This led to him finding the clear lane a lot easier and once he did find that lane, his elite burst and speed made it hard for defenders to keep up.

The big plays finally happened

Prior to the season, I actually interviewed Hines for the site. He told me the biggest focus for him on offense going into 2020 was to create more big plays and have a bigger impact on the team in that department. In his first two years with the Colts, he had a combined 12 rushes that went over 10 yards. This year alone, he had 19 such rushing attempts that exceeded 10 yards. He also put up his career-long reception (29 yards) and rush (33 yards) in 2020.

The big plays that he created fueled this offense down the stretch. In the playoff game against the Bills, the Colts’ offense needed a spark trailing by multiple scores in the fourth quarter. On two separate scoring drives, he was able to rip off long runs after making defenders miss to set the offense up for success. These aren’t simple plays that any player could make either. These were top plays by a dynamic offensive player that helped get the Colts back in this game.

Hines has always been a top-level athlete with the ability to make these types of plays. We just didn’t see it during his first two seasons outside of punt return duty. This year we saw a completely different player in Hines as he created explosive plays for the offense and it led to the team having much more success late in the year. Jonathan Taylor was great this year and deserves a ton of credit but Hines showed late in the year that he is the most dynamic weapon on the offense.

Final Thoughts

Nyheim Hines was a fan favorite prior to this season due to the flashes of electric play and his overall reliability in the passing game. This year however he transitioned to a completely different player as he looks like the surefire future for the Colts at the change of pace running back spot.

His growth as a runner is one of the best developments of the season. Hines was directly told by Running Backs Coach Tom Rathman that he was here to catch passes. That he may get a few runs but his main role for the Colts will be to catch passes. That role clearly changed this year and Hines took full advantage of it. He is starting to look more and more like a complete running back each year.

Hines is in line to be a free agent next offseason but I highly doubt he ends up anywhere else but here in Indy. He is the perfect fit for the team in terms of his ability on the field and his character off the field. He is starting to ascend as a player and is only scratching the surface of what he can be in this league. If the Colts’ can get him even more involved in the offense next year, they may be looking at one of the top running back duos in the NFL going forward.