INDIANAPOLIS – Ryan Grigson and Chuck Pagano saw enough in T.Y. Hilton's collegiate tape that a major move to get him on draft day was in order.
Beating other teams to the punch, Grigson swapped picks to get the chance to land Hilton in the third round, and the Florida International product validated the move all season.
Hilton caught 50 passes for 861 yards and a team-leading seven touchdowns. He did so at the game's highest level, and Pagano was convinced early on that Hilton's production was a given.
"You just had to watch his college tape to see what he could do," said Pagano. "We put on his POA (point-of-attack) tape and the game was against Louisville. They threw him a couple of quick slants over the middle. He split the middle and went 60 yards, 70 yards.
"I know this, when you make plays in high school, you're going to make them in college. When you make them in college, you're going to make them in the NFL."
Pagano said watching Hilton's tape reminded him of when he was scouting Baltimore's Ed Reed. Reed made plays coming out of a Louisiana high school, and he continued to do it at Miami under Pagano. He did so later with Pagano in Baltimore.
To Pagano, a player is a player.
"I'm not surprised at all by T.Y. I saw him make those same plays at Florida International," said Pagano. "Once he got his legs underneath him (here), knew exactly where to line up and figured out this offense, he just took off.
"They (Sun Belt Conference) have great players and great coaches. They do a good job. We've seen guys come from all sorts of places and divisions. It doesn't matter. When you have ability like T.Y. has – run after the catch talent, quickness speed, elusiveness, return capability – the sky is the limit."
Hilton was excited to join the Colts. It meant he had an encyclopedia at his disposal, Reggie Wayne.
Hilton went to work studying Wayne's cuts, how he got in and out of his breaks, how to scrutinize film so he could break down defenses and learn to leverage defenders.
His work ethic and study habits equated to playing time, and Hilton prospered. He had receptions in 14 outings. His five 100-yard games broke Andre Rison's 1989 rookie club mark.
A robust 17.2 reception average was the most by a Colts rookie receiver in a non-strike year since Bill Brooks in 1986 (65-17.4). Hilton and Atlanta's Julio Jones (54-17.8, 2011) are the only NFL rookies to hit that average since 2000. The last Colts veteran receiver to exceed a 17.0 seasonal average with more than 50 receptions was Jessie Hester in 1990 (54-17.1).
"T.Y. came on like gangbusters," said Grigson. "T.Y. plays very fast. (He was the) most productive receiver this receiver among rookies. (He) showed up as a returner as well."
Hilton helped the Colts early against Buffalo with a 75-yard scoring punt return, and his eight-yard touchdown reception later in the game proved to be the winning points. It made him the first Colts player ever to score both ways in a game.
Hilton had four touchdown receptions exceeding 40 yards, including 61- and 70-yarders. He held a 27.2 average on scoring receptions, while his 13 receptions exceeding 20 yards ranked second on the team.
"T.Y. showed he could be a big-play guy, but that all comes back to how he's wired, the type of guy he is," said Grigson. "He was hurt all OTAs, but constantly he was in (receiver coach) Charlie Williams' ear. He genuinely was trying to take mental reps. Some guys do it for a couple of days, then they fade and get in the doldrums of being hurt. T.Y. was so on point about taking the reps in his head that he was ready when he had his chance.
Grigson says the arrow for Hilton is pointed due north.
"I told him he needs to get in the weight room in the offseason because he's a peanut. He is," said Grigson. "He's relied on his God-given abilities. That's no fault of his. It's what has worked for him.
"I just feel he understands that to be great in this league, you have to be a pro every day and do the little things. That means putting 5-to-10 pounds of muscle on to sustain the hits you take in this league. That's only going to elongate his career."
The Colts will have a different offense in 2013, so Williams should be ready for Hilton to come calling. The offense still will take its shots downfield, but yards after the catch on shorter routes may be part of the process.
Whatever the process is, Hilton will be involved.
"We (see) a very, very explosive athlete," said Pagano. "Our expectations are high. He places high expectations on himself. I think we just got a taste of what he's capable of doing, not only receiving, run after catch, but the return game also."