The Indianapolis Colts, with coach Frank Reich at the helm, had a strong 2020 season. The Colts finished 11-5 and made the playoffs, pushing the No. 2 seeded Buffalo Bills to the bring in the Wild Card Round. And the 2021 version may be even better after acquiring former Eagles’ quarterback Carson Wentz to lead the team’s offense.
Once upon a time, Wentz played for Reich when he was the Offensive Coordinator of the Eagles. In 2017, Reich’s final season with the Eagles, Wentz had his best season as a pro. He started only 13 games due to injury but went 11-2 in those starts, throwing for 3,396 yards and 33 touchdowns with only seven interceptions.
If re-teaming with Reich on a team with a robust running game helps Wentz thrive again, it will be a boon to the team’s receivers and fantasy owners. But which receiver should you invest in? Let’s weigh the options.
A Quartet of Pass Catchers
There are currently four receivers on the Colts that could have a significant role in the team’s 2021 offense. That list begins with veteran TY Hilton, who re-signed on a one-year contract this off-season. Hilton has played his entire nine-year career with the Colts, catching 608 passes for 9,630 yards and 50 TDs. That includes his 2020 season in which he caught 56 passes for 762 yards and five TDs on 93 targets in 15 games. That was good enough to make him WR42 in 2020, the best finish for a Colts’ pass-catcher.
Hilton is past his peak with the Colts when he’d seen 120-plus targets, but his 2020 production shows he can still make an impact on the field. The Colts thought enough of the veteran to bring him back as they look to make another playoff run. He figures to have a strong shot at one of the starting outside receiver slots.
Next up on the list of current options is Michael Pittman, Jr., a second-round selection in the 2020 draft. Pittman had a solid but uneven rookie season, appearing in 13 games and starting eight, seeing 61 targets. He turned those targets into 40 receptions for 503 yards and a touchdown. That was good enough to be WR79 in 2020, but Pittman figures to be poised to take a leap in his second season with a full season.
That brings us to Parris Campbell. The former Ohio State Buckeye was a second-round draft pick in the 2019 draft. His profile and draft capital made him a hot selection in 2019 rookie drafts, but he hasn’t been able to stay on the field. As a rookie, he appeared in seven games and saw only 24 targets but turned it into 18 receptions for 127 yards and a TD. In his sophomore season, he caught six passes for 71 yards in Week 1 but suffered a season-ending injury early in Week 2. The potential for production in the offense if he can stay on the field remains, but so far, that’s a big if.
The wild card in the group is Zach Pascal, who has seen at least 70 targets each of the last two seasons. The Colts liked him enough to tender him at a second-round level. Last season Pascal saw 71 targets, turning them into 44 receptions for 629 yards and five TDs. That was good enough to be WR56 in 2020. Pascal isn’t the biggest name in this group, but he’s had more steady production than recent draft picks and can’t be ignored.
Other Considerations for the Colts
While the team has four guys to consider for fantasy players, there may be more competition post-draft. The Colts hold the No. 21 overall pick, and while the team might not go receiver in the first round, many suspect the Colts will get a receiver in this draft. That makes sense as the team builds an offense toward the future. Depending on the type of receiver taken, it will impact the opportunities for the players already there. It also makes sense with Hilton aging and on a one-year deal to look toward the future.
Another potential challenge is the tight end. Currently, the team has Jack Doyle and Mo-Allie Cox on the roster. Doyle caught 23 passes for 251 yards and three TDs, while Cox caught 31 for 394 yards and two TDs. With the Eagles, Wentz used the TE a good deal, which could benefit these players or prompt the Colts to add to the position through the draft or via free agency or trade. Increased targets to TEs would limit the targets available for receivers.
Finally, a big piece of the passing game puzzle in 2020 was Nyheim Hines, second on the team in targets with 76. He turned that into 63 receptions for 482 yards and four TDs. The big role played by Hines was a product of missed games from receivers, specifically Campbell.
Who to Bet On
For fantasy players, it comes down to potential and long-term value. Hilton likely will still make an impact in 2020, but I doubt he’s on the Colts in 2021 or relevant in fantasy two years from now. If you have Hilton, he’s a piece to help you compete in the short term. Additionally, Pascal has been a great fill-in, but his last two years feel like a ceiling, and that’s not a bet I’m making if I want to have a player I feel good about putting in my lineup each week.
When looking at the Colts’ receivers, it comes down to Campbell and Pittman. Like many others, I spent a high rookie pick to acquire Campbell in a few leagues in 2019 rookie drafts. At the time, his potential and the appeal of potentially catching passes from Andrew Luck were enticing. But Luck retired, and Campbell has played in just over eight games in two seasons. I haven’t given up hope completely, but it’s hard to feel confident.
That brings us to Pittman. Pittman’s final year at USC, he caught 101 passes for 1,275 yards and 11 TDs. As a rookie, he showed flashes, but between a stint on injured reserve and inconsistent targets, he couldn’t break out. Pittman seemed like an ideal fit for the Colts when taken in the 2020 draft. With one season of experience in Reich’s system and a full off-season, Pittman has the skills and profile to thrive. He’s the receiver on the Colts I want long-term, and I expect him to take a step forward in 2021.
Matthew Fox is a life-long NFL fan and Broncos’ homer. You can find more from him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.