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Has T.Y. Hilton Hit His Ceiling as Indianapolis Colts' No. 1 Receiver?

Kyle J. Rodriguez@@coltsauth_kyleCorrespondent IJuly 2, 2015

Indianapolis Colts' T.Y. Hilton (13) in introduced before a NFL wildcard playoff football game between the Indianapolis Colts and the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday, Jan. 4, 2015, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Michael Conroy/Associated Press

While Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks' contract discussions have been a major topic of the media this offseason, another third-round pick from 2012 has not yet gotten into such negotiations.

The Indianapolis Colts' contract talks with T.Y. Hilton have yet to ramp up, according to the impression general manager Ryan Grigson left with Stephen Holder of the Indy StarHilton, of course, would like to be paid now, as his $1.67 million cap hit this season will be a steal for the wide receiver who finished sixth in the league in receiving yards last season.

But the Colts seem intent on waiting to extend Hilton's deal, perhaps in part because the market for wide receivers will change when Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, A.J. Green and Julio Jones, who are all set to become free agents in 2016, get new contracts.

Hilton was the Colts' No. 1 receiver in 2014, but he's an interesting case. He's much smaller than a traditional No. 1, and the Colts may want to see him meet those expectations for more than one season before committing superstar-level money.

This is especially true with additional weapons added to the roster for 2015. Andre Johnson, Phillip Dorsett and Frank Gore could result in a more spread-out offensive game plan and less production for Hilton to hang his hat on.

Colts New Receiving Options
PlayerProjected TargetsProj. Rec.Proj. YardsProj. TDs
Frank Gore46362952
Andre Johnson115729008
Phillip Dorsett52334033
Mike Clay, Pro Football Focus
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Hilton has been fantastic through three seasons, but the Colts have had little else in terms of high-volume passing targets as Reggie Wayne has aged.

The question left for Hilton is, can he get better?

How much more production can we reasonably expect from Hilton as his career progresses? How much production can we expect with other targets being introduced in Indianapolis?

A ceiling of 80 catches and 1,300 yards is perfectly fine for a No. 1 receiver, but it's not worth elite money. If Hilton wants elite money, we need to establish a basis for expecting more from him going forward.

As a player, it's difficult to pinpoint areas where Hilton can still improve to become a better wide receiver.

Evan Silva of Rotoworld summed it up well:

Emerging as far and away Indianapolis' top receiver while Reggie Wayne and Hakeem Nicks showed dead legs, Hilton ranked top 15 among NFL wideouts in targets and sixth in yards despite missing a game.

Andrew Luck and Hilton have formed a Rodgers-Jordy-like bond, staying on the same page even when plays break down. Hilton's route running has sharpened, and he is capable of beating defenses at every level of the field. He's about as close to a "complete receiver" as a 5-foot-10, 183-pound wideout can get.

Combine lethal speed with polished route running, reliable hands and excellent chemistry with a quarterback, and what are you missing?

Maybe you want a receiver who is better at going up and getting the ball at the catch point, where a bigger, more physical receiver would generally fare better.

Hilton's not completely inadequate in that regard, either.

This sounds like a knock on Hilton, but it's really a huge compliment: It's unclear where he can improve.

If he's already about as well-rounded as could be, what more can we see from him? He's not going to get faster or taller. He may improve on his route running and mental understanding of coverages in some regard, but he's already fairly impressive in those areas, so improvement would likely only be marginal.

Right now, it doesn't seem like Hilton's ceiling can raise much—at least not on his own. But that doesn't mean his numbers can't take a big leap.

It's worth remembering that Hilton only really played 14 games last season. He sat out Week 16 with a hamstring injury and was on the field for just part of the first half in the regular-season finale, when the Colts rested their starters.

That puts Hilton's numbers in perspective. An 80-catch, 1,300-yard season is impressive, but if he was completely healthy all season, those numbers could have been even better.

T.Y. Hilton's Potential Production
SituationTargetsReceptionsYardsTouchdowns
2014- 14 Games128821,3457
2014 Per Game9.145.8696.070.5
16-Game Extrapolation146941,5378
Pro-Football-Reference.com

Then there are the little things Hilton could improve upon.

With his hamstring injury, Hilton tailed off at the end of last season, making a few uncharacteristic mistakes.

Before his hamstring injury in the week prior to the matchup in Cleveland, Hilton caught more than 67 percent of the passes thrown his way. But after the injury, Hilton caught just 43 percent of his targets, including his playoff numbers. Hilton also had seven of his 10 drops during that span, according to Pro Football Focus.

Obviously, a hamstring injury may not directly affect one's hands, but a muscle injury such as that affects the way a player moves in almost every way. It's completely plausible that something along those lines could have affected Hilton's concentration while also giving him less explosion to separate from defenders for easier catches.

While having other high-quality targets on the team will take some looks away from Hilton, it may also force defenses to focus their attention elsewhere, leaving Hilton with easier matchups.

It's also important to note that while the Colts' new additions will take up some new targets, Hilton's targets will possibly only go up just a bit. Of the top 30 players in the league in targets last season, Hilton was 28th in percentage of team targets, per my own tracking.

Top Players Percentage of Team Targets (Min. 120 Targets)
Top 5TeamTargetsTeam %Bottom 5TeamTargetsTeam %
Demaryius ThomasDEN18430.31%Martellus BennettCHI12821.02%
Andre JohnsonHOU14730.31%Rueben RandleNYG12720.92%
Antonio BrownPIT18129.58%T.Y. HiltonIND13119.82%
Dez BryantDAL13728.78%Roddy WhiteATL12519.78%
Jordy NelsonGB15128.17%Jimmy GrahamNO12418.82%
Pro-Football-Reference.com

Hilton was one of just three players to have more than 120 targets but be targeted on fewer than 20 percent of his team's passing attempts. For a No. 1 receiver on the pass-heavy Colts, getting back to 130 targets should be very attainable. And if his efficiency gets better with a more efficient overall offense, his numbers could rise yet again.

On some level, Hilton has hit his ceiling as a No. 1 receiver in the NFL. He has very solid, well-rounded traits and great chemistry with a star quarterback.

But don't expect him to flatline just yet.

If Hilton stays healthy, he's still on track to put up even better numbers in 2015, especially as the Colts offense continues to become more efficient.