INDIANAPOLIS — It's fitting that 2020 is a leap year, because the Indianapolis Colts have a player on the roster who may be set to take a big jump forward in this, his second season.
After being selected in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft, wide receiver Parris Campbell's rookie season was thrown off by multiple injuries. While he showed flashes several times as a rookie why the Colts loved his playmaking ability in college, there's almost nowhere else to go for him but up.
Recently, NFL.com analysts held a discussion in which they talked about which second-year NFL stars are set to take a big leap in Year 2, and Jim Trotter submitted Campbell as his selection:
Trotter: Another player to watch is Colts wide receiver Parris Campbell. Seemingly everything went against the second-round pick last year. A hamstring injury in training camp was followed by midseason sports hernia surgery, which was followed by a fractured hand, which was followed by a broken foot that ended his season. He appeared in just seven games (starting three) and finished the season with 18 catches for 127 yards and a touchdown. His 7.1 yards-per-reception mark was the worst of his career -- at any level. But the former Ohio State star should blossom this season, thanks to good health and the arrival of veteran QB Philip Rivers. With a physical line up front and a tough runner in Marlon Mack, the Colts should have ample opportunities to throw the football downfield via play-action passes. And that should mean big opportunities -- and numbers -- for Campbell.
On the surface, the only thing holding Campbell back last year were the injuries; a hamstring pull that cost him most of training camp, and then sports hernia, hand and foot injuries that zapped away nine games and ultimately put him on injured reserve.
Although the Colts' passing game was lacking some pop in 2019 (they finished 30th), whether it was the preseason or regular season, Campbell showed he could make plays no matter which quarterback was throwing him the ball.
In total, he started 3-of-7 games and caught 18-of-24 targets for 127 yards (7.1 avg.) and one touchdown to go with four carries for 34 yards (8.5 avg.). He also returned seven kickoffs for 175 yards (25.0 avg.).
After getting a taste, big things could lie ahead for Campbell and the Colts' passing game in 2020.
"For sure. I am going in with the mindset that it's a new year," Campbell recently told reporters. "I have kind of transformed myself into a pro and I have been able to see at least one season – maybe it's not all 16 games — but I've seen just from watching and being in it, just getting the experience of being an NFL player. Just having that experience has helped me a lot. I know it's only one year. There is tons of more stuff to learn and tons more stuff to do, but it was a good foundation for me even though it didn't go the way I wanted it to go."
Beyond staying healthy, the offseason addition of veteran quarterback Philip Rivers could end up making the biggest difference for Campbell moving forward. Now back to 100 percent health-wise, Campbell has already connected with Rivers to throw and build some chemistry in their free time in the absence of OTAs and minicamps.
The Colts haven't lost any enthusiasm about what Campbell can do for their offense, and his style meshes well with a quarterback like Rivers.
"I'll say this about Parris: he has not left the building since the end of the season," Colts head coach Frank Reich said about Campbell potentially breaking out in 2020. "He's been there working, rehabbing and getting his body right. I think he understands what he has to do to get his body right for the grind of the season.
"We think Parris Campbell has a lot of upside," Reich continued. "I think we saw it. You watch the Tennessee game down in the red zone and he scores a TD on a route over the top. Saw it against Oakland. He had a fumble on the play, but he catches an option route, breaks two tackles and looks like he's going to go and saw it against Pittsburgh where I think he almost had 100 yards on just on coaches getting the ball in his hands."
Rivers loves to check down to his yards-after-catch receivers, and with Campbell's speed, that should create lots of big-play opportunities. Rivers also doesn't mind uncorking it deep, which also works well with Campbell's ability to get downfield.
As Trotter mentioned, Campbell stretching the field should be a big part of the Colts' play-action game this year, and it just so happens to be an area the Colts wanted to improve upon in 2020.
With the addition of the big-bodied Michael Pittman Jr. in the draft, Campbell is likely to see more action in the slot in 2020, which is a position that can capitalize on his dangerous abilities.
"I think slot receivers, it's all about matchups. That's where the game plan and the scheme comes in," Campbell said about using his abilities from the slot. "A lot of times when you're in the slot, unless the defense is in nickel (and) bringing in an extra DB (defensive back), the majority of the time you're lining up against safeties sometimes even linebackers who are not as – I don't want to say as athletic, but the speed might not be up to par. It's definitely a matchup thing. Having the things that I have, I think it just works well."
With an improved passing attack for the Colts and his health regained, Campbell may very well be a second-year star for fans to watch out for in 2020.