INDIANAPOLIS — With both the NFL regular season and the 2010s decade in the rear-view mirror, football-centric social media users have been ramping up posts about the upcoming 2020 NFL Draft as well as "best of the decade" lists.
Two of the biggest veteran gems on the Indianapolis Colts, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and defensive end Justin Houston, have become notorious for being among the best at their positions in the NFL; they've both been in the league for awhile and have performed at the level of former first-round NFL Draft picks.
It would be easy for most to forget, though, that neither of them actually came off of the board until Round 3.
Recently, Luke Easterling of Draft Wire came out with his list of the top NFL Draft steals of the 2010 decade, and both Hilton and Houston made the cut.
Wide Receiver | Florida International | 2012, Round 3, Pick 92 Overall
Hilton carved out a productive career at FIU, leaving with school records in receptions (229), receiving yards (3,531) and receiving touchdowns (24), among many others. He was named the Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year in 2008, was twice named First-Team All-Sun Belt (2008, 2010) and was the Sun Belt Player of the Year in 2010.
In the draft he was slapped with the stereotypical "small, fast receiver" tag — he could take the top off of a defense, make plays on end-arounds and return kicks with the best of them, but how was he going to find a way to be effective with the entire route tree?. However, many people failed to realize that Hilton wasn't just a one-trick pony and could eventually fill out his game to be as effective as a 5-9, 185-pound receiver can be.
Hilton landed in a great situation with the Colts in 2012, who had just selected generational quarterback prospect Andrew Luck in the first round, and already had one of the best veteran receivers in the league in Reggie Wayne.
Wayne turned out to be the perfect role model for Hilton, helping him work on the intricacies of his game and teaching him how to become a pro behind the scenes. Already possessing speed and agility, Hilton developed into a better route runner and sharpened his mechanics to be able to win at all levels of the field.
Now in his eighth season, Hilton has started 96-of-117 career games, becoming a full-time starter in the second half of the 2013 season. He has 549 receptions (943 targets) for 8,526 yards (15.5 avg.) and 45 touchdowns. The Colts have wisely utilized Hilton's playmaking ability in other ways, as he also has nine carries for 55 yards (6.1 avg.), 49 punt returns for 482 yards (9.8 avg) and one touchdown, and 10 kickoff returns for 123 yards (12.3 avg.). In 2016, he led the entire NFL in receiving yards in (1,448).
In the postseason, Hilton has started 7-of-8 games and has 45 receptions (86 targets) for 749 yards (16.6 avg.) and three touchdowns as well as one carry for one yard, and one punt return for 10 yards.
The player nicknamed "The Ghost" has earned several accolades throughout his career, beginning with being a member of the NFL All-Rookie Team in 2012. He has been named to the "NFL Top 100 Players" list three times (2015 , 2017 , 2019 ), the Pro Bowl four times (2014-17), once the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week (2012-Week 12) and once the AFC Offensive Player of the Week (2017-Week 9)
Hilton has positioned himself over eight seasons to be one of the Colts' best receivers in franchise history as well as one of the NFL's best active receivers. Currently, he ranks:
- 6th among active players in yards per reception
- 9th among active players in receiving yards
- 9th among active players in receiving yards per game (72.9)
- 16th in NFL history in career receiving yards per game
- 17th among active players in receiving touchdowns
- 18th among active players in receptions
Edge Defender | Georgia | 2011, Round 3, Pick 70 Overall
Houston joined the Georgia Bulldogs as an already-respected recruit out of his home state. He was named Second-Team All-SEC in 2009, and then earned First-Team All-SEC and First-Team All-American honors the next season in 2010. Following a hot final two years at Georgia, Houston decided to forgo his senior season and enter the 2011 NFL Draft.
As a prospect, Houston was considered an edge rusher who could fit pretty much anywhere. Measuring at 6-3, 270, he had the size and strength to handle 4-3 defensive end duties, but also had enough speed and athleticism to become a 3-4 outside linebacker. While he was widely respected as a prospect and could have gone as early as the late first to early second round, a reported failed drug test at the Combine bumped his stock a bit, making him available to the Kansas City Chiefs in the third round.
Houston joined a Chiefs defensive front already featuring some quality edge players in Tamba Hali and Mike Vrabel. He remained a rotational player until halfway through the year, getting 5.5 sacks as a rookie. He would become a full-time starter the following season.
After eight seasons in Kansas City and now finishing his first with the Colts, Houston has started 111-of-117 career games, racking up 424 tackles (109 for loss), 88.5 sacks, 15 forced fumbles, 13 fumbles recovered, four interceptions, 32 pass breakups, two touchdowns, two safeties and 136 quarterback hits.
In the postseason, Houston has started 6-of-7 games and has 19 tackles (four for loss), 4.0 sacks, two fumbles recovered, three pass breakups and eight quarterback hits.
As one of the most dominant pass rushers of his generation, Houston has earned respect from everyone around the NFL, especially after getting 22.0 sacks in 2014, which was just one sack away from breaking Michael Strahan's single-season NFL record.
Houston was named First-Team All-Pro that year, and has been named five times to the "NFL Top 100" list (2013 , 2014 , 2015 , 2016 , 2017 ). He is a four-time Pro-Bowler (2012-15), one-time AFC Defensive Player of the Month (2013-September) and a three-time AFC Defensive Player of the Week (2013-Week 1, 2013-Week 3, 2019-Week 5).
Like Hilton, Houston ranks very highly among his current colleagues as well as those who have come before him:
- 1st among active players in safeties
- 8th among active players in sacks
- 13th among active players in tackles for loss
- 17th among active players in forced fumbles
- 29th in NFL history in career tackles for loss
- 53rd in NFL history in career sacks