Philip Rivers Needs to Improve for TY Hilton to Pay Off in Fantasy Football
In his final two years with a healthy Luck (2016 and 2018), the receiver averaged exactly 17.1 fantasy points per game (PPR scoring) in each season. With Jacoby Brissett taking over for Luck in 2019, that number dropped to 12.5 points per game -- similar to Hilton's 11.0 points per game mark in 2017 with Luck on injured reserve.
This offseason, the Indianapolis Colts attempted to upgrade the quarterback position by bringing in veteran Philip Rivers. Let's take a closer look at both Hilton and Rivers in an attempt to determine the likelihood of Hilton's fantasy value bouncing back in 2020.
Most Valuable as a Deep Threat
During Hilton's best years, he was regularly used to stretch the field in the Colts' offense. This gave him a high fantasy ceiling on a weekly basis due to his ability to rack up significant points on just two or three long receptions, especially if he reached the end zone.
Unfortunately, Hilton's downfield usage dropped off significantly in 2019, even compared to the 2017 season when he also worked with Brissett for the majority of the year. According to Sports Info Solutions, Hilton's average depth of target dropped off by more than a yard last year, while his average depth of reception fell off a cliff, from 10.7 two seasons ago to 6.2 in 2019.
|Year||Avg. Depth of Tgt||Avg Depth of Rec|
Many factors could account for this dropoff. Hilton turned 30 during the season and might be slowing down. It's also possible this was a coaching decision. Head coach Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni weren't in Indy the last time Brissett was the Colts starter in 2017 -- they may have had less confidence in his downfield passing ability, and adjusted the play calling accordingly.
Assuming Hilton still has the physical tools to stretch the field, it's possible we could see his downfield usage rise again if the coaching staff has more faith in Rivers. Sirianni was once Rivers' quarterbacks' coach in San Diego, so he will already be familiar with Rivers' aggressive mindset as a passer.
Can Rivers Find Hilton Downfield?
Rivers has been an aggressive downfield passer throughout his career, which, on the surface, appears to bode well for Hilton.
According to Sports Info Solutions, 23.5 percent of Rivers' pass attempts in 2019 traveled at least 15 yards downfield, the third-highest rate in the league.
A slightly more aggressive downfield passing attack would help Hilton, but only if Rivers still has the juice in his arm to get him the ball. And there's some evidence to suggest Rivers may no longer possess that skill set.
After ranking among the three most accurate quarterbacks in the league on downfield passes in 2017 and 2018, per Sports Info Solution, Rivers fell off a cliff in 2019.
With an on-target rate of 47.8 percent on throws of 15 or more yards downfield, Rivers ranked 29th among quarterbacks with at least 50 attempts. To give you an idea of the company he's keeping down there, he placed once spot ahead of Mason Rudolph (44.8 percent) and one spot behind Kyle Allen (50.0 percent) -- yikes.
|Year||On-Target Rate at 15+ yds Downfield||Rank|
|2019||47.8%||29th out of 30|
|2018||67.7%||2nd out of 32|
|2017||69.8%||3rd out of 32|
The key to understanding Rivers' effect on Hilton could lie in this statistic. Was it a fluke, or is Rivers over the hill?
One possible explanation could be an injury, although there is limited evidence to support this theory. Rivers didn't appear on the Los Angeles Chargers' injury report until Week 17 with a thumb injury -- an injury he said occurred the week prior.
So if it wasn't injury-related, it seems Rivers may be near the end of his run. The other quarterbacks who ranked near the bottom of the league in downfield accuracy were Rudolph, Allen, Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, and Mitchell Trubisky -- each of whom are known to have deficiencies in this area of their game. While Rivers looks like an outlier among that group, at his age, it's certainly possible he's simply lost his ability to excel as a deep passer.
How to Value Hilton
The Colts didn't sign Rivers just to continue running a conservative offense -- that has never been Rivers' style. So we should probably assume Hilton will be used to stretch the field on a regular basis again, which boosts his ceiling closer to where it was during his prime with Andrew Luck.
However, given Rivers' struggles in his final season with the Chargers, it's probably best to proceed with caution. If Rivers can't return to form as a deep-ball passer, Hilton's stock could continue to fall. This is especially true considering the Colts recent investment in second-round draft pick Jonathan Taylor. With Taylor and Marlon Mack in the backfield and a productive offensive line, Indy has the roster makeup to transition to a more conservative run-based offense if Rivers proves to be finished.
So while some optimism for a Hilton bounce-back is warranted, he should be viewed as a high-ceiling/mediocre-floor fantasy player until Rivers proves he can reliably find Hilton on the routes which made him a fantasy standout in previous seasons.
According to BestBall10's average draft position data, Hilton currently has an ADP of 66th overall in 12-team leagues. If you're leaning towards buying into Rivers as a bounce-back candidate, this is probably an appropriate area to target Hilton. The next receiver coming off the board is A.J. Green, another former fantasy star with a risky future due to injury.
If you're down on Rivers, however, you may want to pass on Hilton in this range. Other high-upside receivers such as Marquise Brown (74th overall) and Will Fuller (81st overall) are coming off the board later and offer a similar ceiling.