Back in May, Parris Campbell emphatically pushed back on the narrative surrounding his time with the Colts.
"From the outside looking in, people say, 'Oh, he can't stay healthy.' Excuse my language, but to hell with that," Campbell said. "I know who I am at the end of the day, I know what type of player I am. I know why I was drafted here, and the (coaching) staff room, they know. They know I've been through a lot, but they know the type of player I am as well.
"So, just when it all comes together, people on the outside stay on the outside."
Through eight weeks of the 2022 season, Campbell is not only healthy – but it's all coming together for the explosive, versatile, cerebral Colts wide receiver. Campbell has 30 catches for 282 yards and two touchdowns, plus one rush for 28 yards, which came last weekend against the Washington Commanders; over his last three games, he has 19 catches on 25 targets for 170 yards with two touchdowns, and is averaging 9.9 yards per touch.
"I'm grateful. I'm blessed to be healthy," Campbell said this week. "I've been through a lot. I've overcome a lot. Just this season, individually, I've just kind of felt my confidence grow over the course of the season. Obviously as a team, we haven't been getting the results that we've wanted, but I'm not naïve to the fact that I feel like I've been playing well. I feel like I've been making some plays when plays need to be made. I'm grateful for that. I'm grateful for the opportunity. I'm thankful for God to bless me with my health. I'm not naïve to that."
But it's not just that Campbell is putting up solid numbers – it's how he's doing it.
Of Campbell's 40 targets this season, 21 have been over the middle of the field – between the numbers, and inside 20 yards from the line of scrimmage. On those targets, Campbell has:
- 18 receptions
- 210 yards
- 12 first downs
- A 108.3 passer rating when targeted
On half of those 12 first downs, Campbell caught the pass short of the sticks. This is where we'll dig in on Campbell's season: He's consistently picked up some critical yardage with the ball in his hands through open-field explosiveness – a trait we know he possesses – but also with toughness, detail, preparation and a natural feel.
One example: On a first-and-10 in the first half in Week 7, Campbell caught a pass from Matt Ryan just outside the hashmarks about seven yards short of the line to gain. He flipped his hips to the outside to spin away from linebacker Dylan Cole, then fought through safety Andrew Adams' tackle to pick up two extra yards for a first down.
There are times when Campbell's put his foot in the turf and accelerated upfield, and there are other times when he's had to get physical through a tackle to gain the extra yardage necessary to move the chains. But however Campbell's done it on those short and intermediate throws over the middle of the field it's been an important aspect to the Colts' offense.
"Then it's awareness of knowing where the defenders are going to come from, taking that picture in your head before you turn around and break your route," Campbell said. "I think it comes down to a feel of knowing where guys are at, and then lastly, the hunger to turn into a runner and set the team up, keep the drive going."
By putting all this on tape, defenses may need to adjust to Campbell – maybe by playing tighter, man-to-man coverage against him to prevent those extra yards after the catch in certain situations. But that's where Campbell's explosiveness can shine.
"I think it's going to give me a huge advantage," Campbell said, "because teams have seen me on a lot of short throws and get a lot of RAC yards and things of that nature."
An example here: Commanders cornerback Rachad Wildgoose played press, man-to-man coverage against Campbell in the slot in the fourth quarter last weekend. Campbell's footwork and acceleration gave him a step on Wildgoose down the field, and Ehlinger threw a pretty deep ball down the near sideline. The only thing holding Campbell back from a 36-yard touchdown was Wildgoose grabbing his left arm.
"Whenever I get tight man to man coverage, I always feel like it's at an advantage for me because of my speed," Campbell said. "I'm licking my chops when I see tight man to man coverage."
And then, in addition to being able to grind out yards and take the top off a defense, Campbell can do stuff like this, too:
"My running back background, I think when I get the ball in my hands I think I'm dangerous in the open field," Campbell said. "I think I have great ability to make people miss and fight for extra yards. That's something I take personally about my game and I think that's one of the positives in my game."
Through no fault of his own, we haven't seen this version of Campbell in his NFL career. We haven't seen how defenses adjust to him, and how he can use his skillset to take advantage of those adjustments. We haven't seen him be a do-it-all weapon who can be trusted over the middle, on deep shots or with the ball in his hands.
But we're seeing it now. Campbell and the Colts always knew he could do this.
And now the rest of the NFL does, too.
"It's exciting to see what Parris can do with the ball in his hands and we have to continue to find ways to get it to him because when he has space and he has the ball, he makes good things happen," quarterback Sam Ehlinger said. "... I'm excited for him. I think he's just scratching the surface. He's just breaking through in what he can be, what he will be and his confidence is growing on a week-to-week basis. He's doing a really good job."