INDIANAPOLIS — Midway through the 2018 season, the Indianapolis Colts’ receiver corps needed answers.
With Andrew Luck throwing the ball at a record pace out of necessity, T.Y. Hilton was banged up, and other guys were uncharacteristically dropping passes.
And then on a Tuesday morning in October, the Colts’ receiver room got some much needed relief in the form of free agent Dontrelle Inman, who fans would later find out probably should not have been available on the open market to begin with.
It took almost no time for Inman — who previously played for Colts head coach Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni with the Los Angeles Chargers — to earn Luck’s trust. In Week 7, his first game with the team, Inman led all receivers in snaps with 42.
In 11 games with the Colts (including the playoffs), Inman would make five starts and catch 36-of-47 targets for 412 yards and four touchdowns. At one point, Inman caught a touchdown in three consecutive games, two of which the Colts needed wins in order to get into the playoffs.
Perhaps most importantly, Inman's ability to make tough grabs and run precise routes led to a quick connection with Luck.
“I think it just depends on the type of work a player is willing to put in — both players on both ends. Andrew and Dontrelle are great communicators and great workers that are going to work endless hours until they get it right,” Sirianni told reporters this season when asked if he was surprised at how quickly Luck and Inman meshed. “So it doesn’t shock me that they have that rapport already together. It took a lot of hard work though in a little amount of time.
"So yeah, in some cases it’s rare, but knowing Andrew Luck and Dontrelle Inman, I don’t think it’s as rare as — I anticipated it I guess to say just because of the high football IQ of both men.”
While there were many factors at play, things started to turn around for the Colts after Inman joined the team. There were 20 dropped passes in the first half of the season compared to just 12 in the second half — Inman accounting for just three all year. Hilton specifically, after struggling with injuries, blew up to become the hottest receiver in football, leading the league with nearly 115 receiving yards per game from Week 10 on.
Despite not being with the team the whole year, 2018 would be one of Inman’s better seasons. His 76.6 percent catch rate was a single-season career high, and his four scores tied a career best. Luck also had a 133.0 passer rating when throwing to Inman, which also a single-season high for quarterbacks throwing to the receiver.
After coaching Inman from 2014-15 with the Chargers, Reich said the Colts got exactly what he had hoped from the veteran receiver.
"Just with Nick and I having a history with Dontrelle and working with Dontrelle — this guy is just a pro," Reich said. "We knew getting him in the building that we would not only get production from him but leadership. He has really provided that. I mean he is a really stabilizing, calming influence in the receiver room. This guy has been there, done that and has seen a lot of ball. He’s got a great perspective, a great work ethic and then is a really smart and savvy football player.
“His contribution has gotten more and more significant. Andrew’s trust in him and appreciation for what Dontrelle brings to the table is really fun to see and hear. I mean just to hear Andrew talk about how that trust has grown. Really, now he is looking for Dontrelle. I mean he is looking for Dontrelle and looking for reasons to throw the ball to Dontrelle. So that has been huge."
For his part, Inman also served as a veteran leader in the Colts’ receiver room and gained comfort within the locker room.
"Oh yeah. I know this is close-knit group. We can grow so much,” Inman said. “We did a good job of getting in the playoffs and turning things around, but I think next season if we dedicate our time to getting better that we can see a totally different outcome next year."
Speaking of next year, Inman is due to hit free agency this spring when the new league year begins, but he said he'd like to help finish what this squad started in 2019.
"Oh, absolutely. I love these guys," Inman said, "So I'd definitely love to be back."