Has T.Y. Hilton Taken the Next Step As an NFL Receiver?

Hilton has had a phenomenal season in Indianapolis, but where does it rank among the league's best?

Before the season, a lot of people across the country thought that Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton was a boom or bust option, similar to players like Michael Floyd, DeSean Jackson, and Torrey Smith. His performance this year, though, has significantly surpassed those other players. Which begs the question, has Hilton taken the next step and entered the elite class of NFL wide receivers?

To find out, let’s dig deeper into the numbers. At numberFire, we use a statistic called Net Expected Points (NEP). This unique tool measures how much a player puts his team in a better position to score each time they touch the ball. To learn more about NEP and numberFire’s metrics, head over to our glossary.

So, how do Hilton's numbers look this season compared to his career marks? Let's find out.

YearReceptionsReception NEPReception NEP/TargetSuccess Rate
2014 thru 11 games6390.630.9490.48%
2014 Projected Total92131.830.9490.48%

If you take a look at Hilton’s totals so far this season and his projected totals for the entire year, he’s already on pace for career marks in nearly every category. So far, he’s ranked third in the NFL in receiving yards and yards per catch. His Reception NEP is ranked fifth, and his Reception NEP per target is ranked fourth. His numbers are high in both raw stats, as well as NEP statistics. This means that Hilton is not only producing, but also he is doing so in effective and meaningful ways. Now let’s provide some context to see where Hilton ranks among the NFL’s best.

Where Does Hilton Stack Up in 2014?

PlayerReceptionsYardsTDsReception NEPRNEP/TargetSuccess Rate
T.Y. Hilton631083490.630.9490.48%
Calvin Johnson *38578356.810.77100%
Demaryius Thomas8211929103.390.8386.59%
Dez Bryant638791082.410.8080.95%
A.J. Green *41629448.470.7592.68%
Brandon Marshall52618857.700.6392.31%
Julio Jones72980483.060.7090.28%
Jordy Nelson681066995.890.9089.71%
Antonio Brown8811619101.430.8284.09%
*Both Johnson and Green missed three games due to injury.

For fantasy purposes, I decided to take a look at the top eight wide receivers drafted in Yahoo fantasy football leagues and compare their statistics to those of Hilton, who was the 25th wide receiver taken on average in the same leagues.

Among eight of the most elite receivers in the NFL, Hilton stacks up with all of them so far in 2014. He ranks third in yards, fourth in Reception NEP, first in Reception NEP per target and fourth in Success Rate. Hilton’s high Success Rate indicates that his plays are having a positive impact on his team’s success more often than some of the other guys on this list. Even though he’s a smaller receiver whose play style is considered “boom or bust,” he has been consistently moving the chains and making big plays that increases the Colts’ chances of scoring. Based on that, it’s looking like Hilton has fallen into the “boom” category.

How Much Are These Receivers Contributing To Their Team’s Passing Game?

PlayerTeamIndividual Rec NEPTeam Rec NEP% of Team’s Rec NEP
JohnsonDET *56.81242.9123.4%
GreenCIN *48.47179.9726.9%

Of the receivers analyzed that have played in all 11 games this season, Hilton only ranks higher than Brandon Marshall in percentage of his respective team’s Reception NEP. Although this number is low compared to some of the other elite receivers, this doesn’t necessarily reflect a weakness on Hilton’s part. The Colts have one of the best quarterbacks in the league in Andrew Luck who likes to spread the ball around. Indianapolis is the only team in the league that has eight players with at least 20 receptions.

Luck’s Passing NEP of 124.27 only trails Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers this season, and he is on track for nearly 5,300 yards and 42 touchdowns. This incredible quarterback play isn’t a negative for Hilton, but it shows that while he may not be a truly game-changing player, he’s a key piece in a fantastic offensive system.

Like I mentioned earlier, Hilton is ranked fifth in the NFL this season in Reception NEP, and what he’s on pace for would have ranked third and fourth overall in 2013 and 2012 respectively. These numbers don’t lie. Hilton is drastically helping the powerful Indianapolis offense. He may have been drafted as a low-end WR2 or flex spot in fantasy football leagues, but he is performing like a high end WR1 and should be treated as such. For fantasy purposes, Hilton should be considered “elite” as long as the Colts offense runs the way it does.

Regarding actual football, Hilton needs to dominate more of the offensive work load and score a bit more often before he quite reaches the status of Jordy Nelson, Demaryius Thomas, or Megatron. An elite NFL wide receiver has to prove that he can carry an offense in any situation, rather than just benefitting from the circumstances surrounding him. Hilton is only in his third year in the league and is on the right track to stardom, but he still has yet to take the next step and further dominate his team’s passing attack, which would place him among the upper echelon of receivers in this league.