Stop me if you’ve heard this before: the Ravens are in the market for a wide receiver this offseason. Shocking, right?
All jokes aside, the wide receiver position is again one of the team’s biggest needs. With free agency fast approaching and the draft not long after, speculation has already begun mounting as to who the Ravens could target. Of course there’s a number of options on the table and no shortage of players to look at, but not all of them make sense.
Where does T.Y. Hilton fall on this spectrum?
Hilton, 31, is set to hit unrestricted free agency after spending nine consecutive seasons with the Colts. He was drafted by Indianapolis in 2012, the same draft class as Andrew Luck, and quickly emerged as a playmaker for the Colts. Hilton’s rookie season saw him catch 50 balls for 861 yards and seven touchdowns. He averaged 17.4 yards per reception.
The best was yet to come for Hilton, though, who then posted four straight seasons with over 1,000 receiving yards from 2013-2016. The best season of his career in fact came in 2016, when he caught 91 passes for 1,448 yards and six scores. He fell just 34 yards short of the 1,000-yard mark the following season but rebounded in 2017 with 1,270 yards on 76 receptions.
Since then, Hilton’s numbers have declined. 2018 was a career-low point for the former Florida International product. He scored five touchdowns — on par for his career average — but caught only 45 passes for 501 yards and missed six games due to injury. Things were better this past season, but still subpar by Hilton’s standards. Appearing in 15 games, he caught 56 of 93 targets for 762 yards and again five touchdowns.
These numbers should be taken with context, though. During the peak years of Hilton’s career, Andrew Luck was the Colts quarterback. Over the past two seasons, Jacoby Brissett and Philip Rivers have thrown passes to Hilton. This may not be a coincidence.
The question begs, then, is the 2012-2018 version of Hilton still in there? Or is the once dynamic deep threat over the hump? The correct answer to these question probably lies somewhere in the middle.
Going on 32 years old with quite a bit of mileage under him, it seems implausible to think that the near 1,500-yard receiver we saw in 2016 can be rekindled. Hilton hasn’t demonstrated the same burst and game-breaking speed in recent years that he did in his prime. And yes, it’s fair to say he’s past his prime.
A totality of injuries over the years may in fact have caught up to him. Hilton has played at least 15 games in all but one season, but that doesn’t paint the whole picture. For most of his career, Hilton has been a regular on the injury report. While he’s active regularly, Hilton always seems to be nursing some sort of ailment — especially around the midway point of the regular season — where the “questionable” and “limited participant” tags show up.
Standing at 5-foot-9 and weighing 183 pounds, Hilton isn’t physically built to take big hits, so this shouldn’t necessarily come as a huge surprise. If this sounds like another receiver you know, you might be thinking of Marquise Brown. Oddly enough, both players were also on the wrong end of some bad dropped passes in 2020, too (not great).
Hilton and Brown are quite similar in stature and play style. This could be used as additional ammunition for arguing against the idea of signing Hilton — because it would be repetitive and fail to address the bigger-bodied, possession-style receiver that many have pinned as a need for the offense.
At the same time, it can’t hurt to have more speed and playmaking ability, no? When healthy, Hilton has a proven track record of bringing these elements to the field, regardless of what the past two seasons suggest. Perhaps he still has some juice left in the tank.
Hilton finished the 2020 season with a PFF grade of 77.7, which would have been tops for all receivers on the Ravens roster. PFF also listed Hilton as the most underrated free agent at wide receiver this offseason, citing the fact that he finished the year with a, “top-15 grade on targets at the intermediate level.”
Hilton may not be the same game-breaker he once was, but there are reasons to think he could help the Ravens offense. Baltimore has a track record of squeezing production out of wide receivers who are 30+ years old and on their “last legs”, per say.
Could Hilton be next in line, or should the Ravens go a different direction?
My ultimate conclusion is that Hilton could be a worthwhile flier at the right price. Spotrac has his market value set around $10 million annually (3 years, $30 million). Either way, though, he shouldn’t be the “prized” acquisition at wide receiver this offseason. If the Ravens sign Hilton, it should coincide with signing another free agent wideout of similar caliber or selecting a receiver relatively early in the draft.
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