By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
There were 12 wide receivers selected in April’s NFL draft before Indianapolis Colts first-year general manager Ryan Grigson traded back into the bottom of the third round to pluck Florida International’s T.Y. Hilton with the 92nd overall pick.
The 5-foot-9, 183-pounder carried a reputation as a speed merchant and was expected to potentially make a mark on special teams. He’s far exceeded those modest expectations.
None of the dozen pass catchers chosen ahead of Hilton — including first-rounders Justin Blackmon (Jaguars), Michael Floyd (Cardinals), Kendall Wright (Titans) and A.J. Jenkins (49ers) — recorded a 100-yard game in the first half of the season.
Hilton picked up his second during the Colts’ 23-20 victory against Miami on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“Just watching him, he wants to be real good,” veteran Indianapolis wide receiver Reggie Wayne said. “You just want him to continue to do the things he’s supposed to do, stay in his books, knock on wood keep him healthy. He’s growing. He’s doing a real good job, and hopefully he can continue to do that.”
Hilton got off to a slow start.
A shoulder injury during the preseason sidelined him for the regular season opener at Chicago. Then he caught just one pass for 15 yards in his NFL debut a week later against Minnesota.
But his breakout game came quickly.
He had four catches for 113 yards, including a beautiful 40-yard touchdown on which he simply outran the defense, during the Colts’ 22-17 loss against Jacksonville on Sept. 23.
Hilton’s production has been inconsistent since. He was inactive for a win at Tennessee two weeks ago, and he’s yet to have the expected impact on special teams.
But he ranks third on the team with 24 receptions and 355 yards. His two touchdowns are tied for second, and his 14.8-yard average reception is the best among the Colts.
He caught six passes for 102 yards Sunday against Miami, and he’s on a hot streak as Indianapolis (5-3) prepares for a rematch at the Jaguars (1-7) tonight.
Not that he’s resting on his previous success against Jacksonville.
“I just take it one play at a time, feed off whatever is going on in a game,” Hilton said. “Hopefully, I can make a big play.”
He certainly did Sunday.
Late in the second quarter, the rookie dropped a sure touchdown pass from quarterback Andrew Luck that would have tied the game. The drive stalled, and the Colts went into the locker room trailing 17-13 at the half.
Given a second chance late in the third quarter, Hilton delivered.
He raced into the end zone on a post route, leaving a defender in his wake. But as he made his break toward the middle of the field, help came from the opposite side.
When Luck released the ball back at his own 47-yard line, Hilton was double-teamed.
“I did not see him,” the quarterback said of the help defender. “I figured there was a guy there just by the structure of the defense, but at that point I sort of had trust in T.Y. to go up and make a play. He did a phenomenal job making a play.”
As the ball reached its arc, Hilton took a look at the second defender and made a quick adjustment. By the time the pass made its descent, the receiver was in front of both defenders. He leapt, made an official 36-yard touchdown catch and gave the Colts a 20-17 lead.
“Once he threw it, I knew it was my ball, and I had to go get it,” Hilton said. “When he threw it, I looked down and said, ‘He probably didn’t see (the help defender).’ I just went up and made a great catch. It was a beautiful throw.”
Hilton was part of a pair of 100-yard receivers against the Dolphins, joining Donnie Avery — who had five catches for 108 yards. Wayne also made seven catches for 78 yards, and rookie tight end Dwayne Allen had six grabs for 75 yards.
It was all part of the greatest single-game rookie passing performance in NFL history, as Luck finished with 433 yards to break Cam Newton’s year-old record.
“We are going to need everybody’s participation,” said the 33-year-old Wayne, who serves as a mentor to Hilton and the other young receivers. “We are going to need everybody to chip in, especially with all these young legs running around here. We are going to need everybody to come and put their two cents in, and hopefully we can make a dollar.”