When the Colts inked Philip Rivers to a one-year, $25 million deal in the offseason, T.Y. Hilton’s 2020 fantasy outlook took a collective exhale. For whatever reason, Hilton and incumbent starter Jacoby Brissett never hit their stride on the field in 2019. Hilton ranked No. 34 among qualified wide receivers on a Fantasy Points per Game basis in limited time with Brissett, hardly the 17.1 (No. 14) mark he recorded a year prior with Andrew Luck. In 2020, Hilton comes at a discounted price tag as the WR27 off the board according to FFPC ADP date, but there’s a player catching passes in Indianapolis who’s being drafted much later and has more upside per PlayerProfiler’s advanced stats and metrics. Enter Nyheim Hines.
A fourth-round draft pick in 2018, Nyheim Hines accounted for 1,265 total yards and 12 touchdowns on 223 touches in his junior year before declaring for the draft. Whereas Hines rushed for over 1,100 of his total yards in his last college season, the North Carolina State alum has worked mostly on passing downs as a part-time player since being drafted to the Colts. He averaged a mere 32.3-percent (No. 66) Snap Share last year.
A full-time special teams player, Hines flashes in limited opportunity on offense, averaging 5.4 (No. 13) Yards per Touch. For context, that number put him ahead of Ezekiel Elliott and was on par with Saquon Barkley.
Over the past two seasons, Nyheim Hines has demonstrated that he’s competent enough to take advantage of a plus situation. He has averaged 5.4 yards per touch on an average of 68 carries and 69 targets per season. That target number is important because it brings me to my next point: Hines’ situation. With the switch to Philip Rivers comes a positive switch in the allocation of positional targets. Remember, Frank Reich worked with Rivers when both were Chargers, so it’s safe to say the offense will curtail to Rivers’ strengths.
Last year, the Rivers-led Chargers led the league with 182 RB targets after ranking in the top 5 the year before with 141 targets. Even with three-down back Melvin Gordon in the fold in 2018, Austin Ekeler accounted for 53 (No. 19) targets to Gordon’s 66 (No. 15). With Gordon’s holdout in 2019 Weeks 1-4, Ekeler’s targets nearly doubled at 108 (No. 2) on the season, while Gordon only had 55 (No. 19).
The last season that Philip Rivers didn't target RBs at least 100 times was…
Even did it when #1/#2 RBs were Branden Oliver and Donald Brown.
In the last 5 years Rivers top targeted RB was 2nd, 2nd(tie), 2nd, 5th, 1st in targets on team
This is a Nyheim Hines tweet
— Sigmund Bloom (@SigmundBloom) August 25, 2020
The point is the threat of Jonathan Taylor becoming a superstar early on in the season shouldn’t shy us away from drafting Hines as a late-round RB flier. For as good as Taylor is hyped to be, and for as good as Marlon Mack was last season, neither are polished pass-catchers, keeping Hines’ role safe. Last week, The Athletic’s Zak Keefer wrote: “I’ve never seen Hines this active in the offense. It’s probably not a stretch to say the third-year running back has caught more passes from Rivers than anyone else. They’ve been mostly screen passes and dump-offs, but it’s likely a snippet into some of what we’ll see this season. Instead of throwing the ball away, Rivers will look for Hines. And Hines will look for space.”
Check out Nyheim Hines’ 2020 Projection on PlayerProfiler’s “World Famous” Draft Kit:
Per PFF’s Ian Hartiz, Hines ranked No. 4 among running backs last year in snaps lined up out wide or in the slot. Already being moved around the formation to be put in situations to win, and given Rivers’ dependence to check down to his backs, it’s not hard to see that Hines is severely undervalued at his ADP. He’s going as the RB55 off the board, according to FFPC ADP data.
The Potential Outcome
Coming off a 63 (No. 8) reception campaign on 85 (No. 54) targets in 2018 as a rookie, Nyheim Hines followed that up with a 44 (No. 16) reception season in 2019. In fact, Hines has a sneaky chance to rival Christian McCaffrey as the league leader in catches among running backs. Unlike with the Los Angeles Chargers the past two seasons, Hines is the only back for the Colts that will fill the pass-catching role. This may end up making him close to a full-time player depending on Game Script.
Of course, Hines’ upside is hurt a bit by what appears to be another strong defensive unit for the Colts this season. A strong defense can prevent potential shootouts, but can also provide their offense with short fields. Still, a player that averaged 3.6 targets per game last season on minimal playing time, and who now has a QB who loves to dump off to his backs, is worth the gamble at RB55. Austin Ekeler and Melvin Gordon averaged 10.4 combined targets per game in 2019. Hines and Marlon Mack, on the other hand, combined for 4.8 targets per game. This suggests that whatever the increase in RB targets is, Hines is likely to dominate that share.
In 2019, Nyheim Hines was nowhere near close to flex-starter territory, averaging 6.6 (No. 56) Fantasy Points per Game. However, with a potential bump in targets, a better QB, and better skill position players around him, Hines is worth banking on to become potentially more efficient in Year 3. Basically, Hines isn’t finished developing as a player. Best-case scenario: He’s the 2018 Austin Ekeler, an early-season waiver wire pickup that provides limited, but efficient, touches for at Flex and RB2 in deeper leagues. Ekeler was RB28 on a points-per-game basis in 2018, averaging 11.6 fantasy points on 10.4 touches per game. Worst-case scenario: Jonathan Taylor is as good as advertised and stays on the field for passing downs, not as an asset but not as a liability. At Hines’ ADP, he’s worth the risk.