2018 Colts Review: Wide Receivers

2018_1223_NYG_9947

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts' wide receivers were an interesting group in 2018. Led by their playmaking star, T.Y. Hilton, the collection of former undrafted free agents, transplants, veterans and rookie draft picks had some exciting moments and made some big things happen along the way.

T.Y. Hilton

  • Started 14-of-14 games (2-of-2 in the playoffs), 76 receptions (120 targets) for 1,270 yards (16.7 avg) and six touchdowns
  • One punt return for two yards

With his quarterback under center, Hilton bounced back in a big way in 2018 after vowing to rebound from what he considered a down year in 2017. And he did it all while being as banged up as he ever has in his career.

Hilton suffered chest and hamstring injuries in Week 4 against the Houston Texans, which limited him in the game and cost him the next two contests. He returned against the Buffalo Bills in Week 7, scoring two touchdowns. Hilton received a clean bill of health on the injury report between Weeks 8-12 before landing back on it with a groin injury leading up to Week 13 and a shoulder injury before Week 14; he would play in both.

Hilton then suffered both a low and high ankle sprain on the same leg against the Texans in Week 14 but played the remaining five games despite practicing just once (limited) that entire duration. It was a gutsy season for Hilton, without doubt.

The seven-year pro posted the highest yards per game average (90.7) of his career, and that includes 2016 (90.5 avg) when he led the entire NFL in receiving yards. Hilton was named a Pro Bowl alternate this season and may have played if not for needing to rest his ankle.

Dontrelle Inman

  • Started 4-of-9 games (1-of-2 in the playoffs), 28 receptions (39 targets) for 304 yards (10.9 avg) and three touchdowns

Inman gave the Colts’ receiving corps a much needed veteran boost when he joined team in Week 7.

At the time, Hilton was coming off his chest and hamstring injuries, and others at the position were having issues with dropped passes. Inman came in and provided some stability in both areas, catching a career-high 71.8 percent of his targets and dropping just three balls all year.

Inman also had a positive effect on Hilton, who took off and led the NFL with nearly 115 receiving yards per game from Week 10 to the end of the season.

Despite being a midseason acquisition, Inman had one of his most efficient seasons as a pro. Including the playoffs, he had a 76.6 percent catch rate, his four touchdowns were tied for a career best, and Luck had a 133.0 passer rating when throwing to Inman — a single-season high for quarterbacks of Inman.

The veteran receiver’s value really came into play late in the season as the Colts made their push for the playoffs, as he caught a touchdown in three consecutive games — Week 16, 17 and the Wild Card round of the playoffs.

Chester Rogers

  • Started 10-of-16 games (1-of-2 in the playoffs), 53 receptions (72 targets) for 485 yards (9.2 avg) and two touchdowns
  • One carry for -4 yards
  • 23 punt returns for 215 yards (9.3 avg) and one kickoff return for 10 yards

The Colts' slot receiver had his most productive season as a regular in the lineup in 2018, setting several personal career bests as both a receiver and punt returner. The third-year pro came back from some early inconsistencies to make some of the most clutch catches of the season down the stretch for the Colts' offense — two of which were critical grabs in Colts come-from-behind victories that they needed in order to qualify for the postseason.

As a rookie in 2016, Rogers was used primarily as a return specialist. The summer of his sophomore season started out hot before a hamstring injury derailed him for several weeks and his development was slowed as an unfortunate byproduct. Year 3 was his coming out party, however, as he finished third on the team in receiving yards, fourth in receptions and targets, and was one of the NFL's top 10 punt returners.

Ryan Grant

  • Started 10-of-14 games, 35 receptions (52 targets) for 334 yards (9.5 avg) and one touchdown

Grant was signed last offseason to be the Tupac to Luck's Dr. Dre, but some unfortunate injuries limited the receiver's impact.

He was a favorite of the coaching staff coming out of training camp, earning a starting spot opposite of Hilton. Grant began the season well, catching 8-of-9 targets in Week 1, and averaging 6.2 targets and reaching 50 receiving yards three times in the first six weeks, but then an ankle injury knocked him out for the next two games.

When Grant returned in Week 10, his productivity began to dwindle. Certainly, Inman's arrival as well as the play of some of the younger receivers in the lineup played a role in that, but Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni mentioned in December that Grant's ankle injury was an issue, as well as the offensive system calling to spread the ball around.

“You know obviously when Ryan had his injury that set him back a little bit just with his timing, with Andrew, his timing and just being out in the field. I actually thought Ryan played a good game (Week 14 against the Houston Texans). He did a good job. He created some separation against some good corners. So we noticed that and definitely have it in our plans that we need to get Ryan going," Sirianni said. "That’s an emphasis that we can’t rely on — he needs to be able to have the games he was having prior to getting injured. Because he has been playing — like I said, last game I thought he did a good job.

"The targets aren’t there and the catches aren’t there, but sometimes again, that does go in ebbs and flows. He might be quiet for a couple weeks and in our system we do like to spread the ball around and then maybe he has eight catches next week. Maybe he has two again next week and then eight the following week. I just think with receivers sometimes that does go in ebbs and flows," Sirianni continued. "So we need him to really hang in there and I get no impression that he won’t. He’s a great guy and a good football player. So we know he will because I know his opportunity is going to come again very shortly.”

Unfortunately for Grant, a toe injury shelved him for the Colts' two playoff games.

Zach Pascal

  • Started 4-of-16 games (1-of-2 in the playoffs), 27 receptions (46 targets) for 268 yards (9.9 avg) and two touchdowns
  • Two carries for 10 yards (5.0 avg)

When training camp began, many outside the organization may have thought Pascal was most likely a "campy body" — and to their credit, he did start out working near the bottom of the depth chart — but he was much more by the time the season came around.

As was mentioned with Grant, the Colts' system often features different pass-catchers week in and week out, so Pascal's big days were sprinkled throughout the season. He caught his first career touchdown at home in Week 4 against the Texans, and then had his biggest game to date against Houston again in Week 14 when he caught 5-of-6 targets for 68 yards and an ankle-breaking score (below).

Showing off theoretical bear traps for hands in camp, Pascal had some uncharacteristic drops for a couple games during the season but recovered to make many sure-handed snags down the stretch.

Others

Daurice Fountain

The Colts selected Fountain in the fifth round of the 2018 NFL Draft out of the FCS' University of Northern Iowa. Coming from a smaller school, he took some time to develop as he participated on the Colts' practice squad for the majority of the season before being called up to the active roster in Week 14. Fountain saw three snaps each on both offense and special teams that week, and then four more snaps on offense during the Colts' two playoff games.

"It was a learning experience for me. I'm really happy I went through what I went through. It definitely humbled me as a player, (and) as a person," Fountain told Colts.com after the season. "I was able to grow. I was able to learn how to become a pro. Now, I can just take everything in and just get ready for next season."

Fountain has a big offseason ahead of him as he sets his eyes on making an impact for the team in 2019.

"It definitely humbled me, man. From not making the team at first and obviously not playing that much once I made the team, it definitely humbled me. It really just opened my eyes that I can't really take anything for granted. I've still got to work. I always had that mentality when I was in college, so coming here, it just kind of fell off a little bit, but I'm glad it happened because now it just — it woke me up, it woke me up," Fountain said. "I know nothing's gonna get handed to you no matter what; no matter if it's college, NFL, peewee ball, anything like that. You're always gonna have to work your hardest and literally outwork the next man to get what you want... This is a very important offseason."

Deon Cain, Marcus Johnson and James Wright

The Colts were hit with some unfortunate injuries at the wide receiver position. Cain and Wright both went down with knee injuries before the season began, and Johnson ironically was injured near the end of the biggest performance of his young career.

Cain made a lot of noise during training camp with his acrobatic catches, but his injury came in the first preseason game, so us as viewers were robbed of seeing him develop throughout the season.

Johnson's season-ending ankle injury came on a kickoff return in the fourth quarter of Week 6 when he was brought down out of bounds. He had just put up 52 yards and the first touchdown of his career earlier in the game.

Steve Ishmael and Krishawn Hogan

The Colts signed Ishmael as an undrafted free agent out of Syracuse in the offseason. He was then signed to the practice squad to begin the season and spent Weeks 8 and 9 on the active roster before being waived and signed back to the practice squad for the remainder of the season.

Hogan was with the Colts in 2017 before a torn ACL put him on Injured Reserve. Hogan returned in time for 2018 training camp and showed consistent improvement. He was waived during preseason roster cuts, but the Colts signed him to the practice squad in Week 7, where he would remain for the rest of the season.

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