INDIANAPOLIS — What Parris Campbell was able to show in 2019 was enticing, to say the least.
The Indianapolis Colts rookie dealt with several injuries that ultimately dictated his season, but in between those injuries, he showed an obvious ability to make plays.
Despite missing nine games, Campbell clearly left an impression on Bleacher Report, which dubbed him as the Colts' most likely breakout candidate in 2020:
"At Ohio State, Parris Campbell was the sort of explosive weapon that offensive-minded head coaches dream of acquiring. Talented as both a runner and a receiver, the 6'0", 205-pound Campbell flashed legitimate 4.31-speed at the scouting combine. ... Even as a gadget player and an after-the-catch guy, Campbell should have had an immediate impact for the Colts as a rookie. ... Unfortunately, the injury bug bit Campbell hard, and he only appeared in seven games with three starts. He never seemed to develop chemistry with quarterback Jacoby Brissett, which made him an afterthought in Indianapolis' run-oriented offense. Campbell finished his rookie season with 18 catches for 127 yards and a touchdown. ... Regardless of who is chosen as the starter (at quarterback), Campbell should have a full offseason to create a rapport. With a little trust and a lot of experience gained, Campbell could become a Tyreek Hill-type game-breaker."
Taken with the 59th-overall pick in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft, the Colts were enamored with Campbell and had big plans for him as a rookie.
"Chris (Ballard) will tell you the first time I saw him on film ... Parris was the one guy that really jumped off the tape to me. Just his explosiveness," Colts head coach Frank Reich told reporters after the Colts selected Campbell. "Playing in the slot, you see all the things he can do, but I really saw some abilities in him that I thought translate and make him not just a slot receiver that you can do a lot of different things with him. But the 4.31 speed, the high character, the intelligence and the high character is important because that has to be an unselfish room. We preach that all the time in that room that, 'Hey, we are an unselfish group.' So he will come in and will have to earn his stripes, but certainly excited about his ability and his character."
"It was at the combine, remember? His combine workout was incredible," Ballard said of Campbell. "And look, in that offense he was used a primarily a slot only at Ohio State and the combine you saw him do things that you never really got to see him do just because of the way he used them. I mean as a route runner, his hands – I know Frank got intoxicated with him just running around our turf during the combine. He is an exciting player for us."
It's easy to see what would draw attention to a player like Campbell given his tape at Ohio State and the workout that he put on during the Combine on the Colts' home turf at Lucas Oil Stadium last February.
Campbell's 4.31-second 40-yard dash time was tied for first among all wide receivers, his 4.03-second short shuttle was first, and his 40.0-inch vertical and 135.0-inch broad jumps were both third.
The rookie made a strong impression early on in training camp with sharp route running and a couple of big plays made in the end zone before a hamstring injury put him on the sidelines for the remainder of camp. He returned in time for the Colts' final preseason game and was ready to go into the regular season.
Unfortunately, the injury bug would bite again, as Campbell was out with an abdominal injury in Weeks 5 and 6, a fractured hand from Weeks 10-13 and a fractured foot that ultimately ended his season from Weeks 15-17.
"You know, we really like Parris Campbell. And every time we'd get him right, something would happen: groin, broken hand, foot," Ballard said recently. "You know, the Tennessee game he has the over route where he has the touchdown where he runs away from Logan Ryan (who) can't cover him in man coverage; against Pittsburgh we were able to get him the ball (and) he had over 100 yards of offense just on fly sweeps and screens. But his body's gotta get right, and he's gotta get healthy where he can stay healthy for a 16-game season."
The flashes of playmaking ability were obvious, especially in the Colts' Week 9 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in which Campbell had 142 yards from scrimmage on a combination of 10 receptions, carries and kickoff returns.
In all, Campbell finished his debut season with 18 receptions (24 targets) for 127 yards (7.1 avg.) and one touchdown, four carries for 34 yards (8.5 avg.) and seven kickoff returns for 175 yards (25.0 avg.).
Not only showing off his abilities on the field, Campbell made a solid impression on wide receivers coach Kevin Patullo in his ability to handle certain things that are uncommon for rookies.
"As far as Parris, really his football intelligence is impressive. The other day in the game we had all those injuries and he was able to play all three spots, which for a rookie that's really difficult to do," Patullo said midseason. "So that was really impressive to see him do that – to step in there, know all three spots and execute. That's really hard to do, especially because he missed some time, so that was big. That's really been the surprise for me – a really good positive thing."
Throughout the season, the Colts made sure to get the ball into Campbell's hands in situations in which he'd be able to produce in the open field, whether it was quick screens, end-arounds or as a kickoff returner. As he continues to develop into a complete receiver, those type of quick shots to him are likely to continue.
Looking ahead to 2020, although Campbell was only able to see action in seven games as a rookie, he had an entire season behind the scenes in which he learned the Colts' offense and ingrained himself as a pro.
He has an offseason now where he can get some rest and not have to prepare for the intense workload of NFL Draft preparation, and he can perhaps get himself back to 100 percent in time to prove that he could be the Colts' top breakout player in his second season.