The Indianapolis Colts are all-in on Philip Rivers for this year, after signing him to a one-year, $25 million deal. It obviously makes sense for the Colts to shape their offense around Rivers. That means adding and utilizing pieces around him, to allow him to operate at a peak. On that note, I give you running back Nyheim Hines.
Last season with the Chargers, running back Austin Ekeler had 92 receptions for 993 yards and eight touchdowns on 108 targets. Over two seasons prior to that, he was a solid secondary pass target with 66 catches on 88 total targets.
As a rookie in 2018, Hines had 63 receptions for 425 yards on 81 targets along with playing 44 percent of the Colts’ offensive snaps. With Andrew Luck under center, Indianapolis was a top-five offense in terms of pace and a top-10 offense in pass play percentage that season.
In 2019, with Jacoby Brissett stepping in for Luck, the Colts’ offense was in the bottom-10 in pace and top-five in run play percentage. Naturally, Hines’ snap rate dropped to 32 percent last year as he finished with 44 catches (second on the team) on 58 targets.
The Colts are sure to open up the playbook again this year with Rivers under center. A faster pace (more plays!) and more passing are easy residuals of that.
In terms of pass catchers out of the backfield for the Colts, barring an addition in the draft, it’s Hines and virtually nothing else. Lead back Marlon Mack (14 catches in 14 games last season) is simply not a weapon in that area. Jordan Wilkins is a broad-based non-factor in the offense.
Strictly projecting, or even coming close to projecting, Ekeler’s receiving numbers last year for Hines this year is mighty aggressive. But the third-year man out of N.C. State is in line for a solid uptick, along the lines of his rookie season (60 catches and 80 targets). If his snap rate somehow pushes toward 50 percent, under an assumption he shares the field with Mack at times, there is the possibility for Hines to get closer to Ekeler-circa 2019 numbers as a primary target for Rivers.