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Making the Leap, No. 9: Indianapolis Colts' T.Y. Hilton

Around The League will profile the top 40 players we see Making the Leap in 2013. No. 9 on the list: Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton

Why Hilton is on the list


Hilton has two rare assets going for him: His burst and his quarterback. Hilton became known as a rookie for his big plays; he had four touchdowns over 35 yards, with three plays over 60 yards. He finished fifth in the NFL in yards per catch. But it's not his long speed that impressed me so much on NFL Game Rewind. It's Hilton's ability to go from zero to full speed in an instant that stands out.

I could have chosen only big plays by Hilton in this post, but I wanted to show the play above as an example of why Hilton is special. The Colts designed just as many plays for Hilton last season as Reggie Wayne. There were a lot of bubble screens and quick throws, often with Hilton in motion. The Colts wanted to get the ball in Hilton's hands and let him work his magic. You can't teach that kind of burst.

Obstacles


Hilton displayed clear shortcomings despite piling up 861 yards as a rookie coming out of Florida International. I didn't realize how many easy passes Hilton dropped until watching all his snaps. ProFootballFocus.com ranked Hilton as one of the five worst receivers in the league in "drop rate." It wasn't just the routine pass; Hilton often struggled to make tough grabs on the sideline. He's not a player who excelled at catching passes over the middle either.

One area Hilton improved upon during the season: his mental approach. Early in the season, you could tell that Hilton and Andrew Luck were not always on the same page. In the play to the right, Luck expects Hilton to sit down in a zone coverage against the Cleveland Browns. Hilton keeps running, and the pass almost gets picked off. Perhaps the adjustment from Florida International to the NFL overwhelmed Hilton at times.

A lack of hands and size (he's 183 pounds) could get in the way of Hilton becoming a star. He is willing to take a hit and be aggressive but appears to lack concentration. If Hilton can correct his problem with drops, his production should soar.

2013 expectations


The Colts signed Darrius Heyward-Bey, who will compete with Hilton for snaps. But this is more about Hilton's own personal development.

Hilton played fewer snaps last year than Donnie Avery, who is very similar to Heyward-Bey as a straight-line speed guy. Hilton has a higher ceiling and a more natural feel of the receiver position. He just has to show improved awareness and consistency as a second-year pro.

If Hilton played in Jacksonville, he wouldn't be on this list. But Luck's presence gives guys like Hilton and tight end Dwayne Allen a real shot to be annual Pro Bowl selections. (Chris Wesseling had a great write-up on Allen here.) Luck is our favorite young quarterback in the league and could be a top-five quarterback as early as this season. Guys like Hilton will look even better than they really are, and that should mean a 1,000-yard season for Hilton in Year 2.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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