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T.Y. Hilton is a prime bounce back candidate with Philip Rivers at QB

T.Y. Hilton missed several games in 2019 and did not resemble his usual self in the ones he played. Should we expect a return to Fantasy relevancy with Philip Rivers throwing him passes in 2020?
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We have yet to see T.Y. Hilton post a top-20 Fantasy WR season without Andrew Luck at QB. Since 2014, Hilton has enjoyed three seasons of full health from Luck, and in those seasons, he finished as the WR9, WR5, and WR13. In the seasons since then that Hilton has had to catch passes from Matt Hasselbeck, Scott Tolzien, and Jacoby Brissett, he has finished as the WR21, WR25, and WR58 (in just 10 games).

Hilton won't catch passes from Luck in 2020, but his new quarterback may be the closest to Luck that Hilton has seen thus far.

The Colts signed Philip Rivers to a one-year $25 million deal, reuniting Rivers with head coach Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni. Per SportsLine's model, the Colts improved as much as nearly any team in free agency. Their signing of Rivers upped Indy's projected win total to 9.1, while increasing their odds of making the playoffs to 55.4 percent.

Rivers leaving the Chargers will have huge Fantasy ramifications on the remaining offensive pieces in L.A., but what impact will his addition have for Indy's playmakers -- specifically, T.Y. Hilton? Does Hilton have another top-12 Fantasy season in him in his age-31 season?

QB Comparison

Even though 2019 was not Rivers' best season, he was still significantly better than Jacoby Brissett according to nearly every metric.

Brissett in 2019 -- 72.3 percent catchable target rate, 74.5 percent 'on target' rate, 73.3 adjusted completion percentage, and a 58 PFF passer grade
Rivers in 2019 -- 76.7 percent catchable target rate, 76.7 percent 'on target' rate, 76.2 adjusted completion percentage, and a 73.6 PFF passer grade

If you want to take it a step further, take a look at Rivers' two most recent seasons compared to Andrew Luck -- the QB who pioneered Hilton's top Fantasy finishes. *On target rate not available*

Luck in 2018 -- 75.6 percent catchable target rate, 75.7 adjusted completion percentage, and an 88.8 PFF passer grade
Luck in 2016 -- 74.9 percent catchable target rate, 74.6 adjusted completion percentage, and a 90.3 PFF passer grade

Rivers in 2019 -- 76.7 percent catchable target rate, 76.2 adjusted completion percentage, and a 73.6 PFF passer grade
Rivers in 2018 -- 78.1 percent catchable target rate, 78.2 adjusted completion percentage, and a 90.3 PFF passer grade  

The Deep Ball

It is clear that Rivers has been a more effective passer than Brissett. And while the likelihood is slim, if Rivers bounces back to something resembling his 2018 form, a case could be made that he is actually an upgrade over Andrew Luck. Perhaps most important, though, is the fact that Rivers is willing to take chances down the field that Brissett wasn't.

T.Y. Hilton ranked ninth in deep targets per game in 2018, but fell all the way to 38th in 2019 with Brissett at QB. Brissett ranked 24th in deep ball rate and 23rd in adjusted completion percentage on deep pass attempts in 2019. In Hilton's WR5 finish in 2016, he was second in the NFL in deep targets and third in deep ball yardage. The deep ball is an important part of Hilton's game, and going from Luck (13.6 percent deep ball rate in 2016) to Brissett (8.7 percent in 2017 and 9.6 in 2019) had a clear negative Fantasy impact.

Rivers' 2019 deep ball rate (13.4 percent) was nearly identical to Luck's 2016 mark. He ranked 10th in deep ball rate and 12th in adjusted completion percentage on deep passes in 2019 and offers some hope that Hilton can return to his days of ranking near the top of the league in deep ball yardage. The Chargers' Mike Williams finished fifth among all wideouts in deep ball yards in 2019, and Tyrell Williams ranked 13th in 2018, so Rivers has proven capable of providing the air yards necessary for downfield weapons to thrive.

Philip Rivers finished third in the NFL in intended air yards in 2019, and his 8.5 intended air yards per attempt was well above anything Brissett or Luck have posted over the past three seasons. Another thing Rivers brings to the table is his propensity for throwing the ball to his top receiver.

Top WR Usage Comparison

Few wide receivers have benefited more from volume over the past few year than Keenan Allen. Rivers' top receiver has finished as Fantasy's WR3, WR11, and WR8 over the past three seasons, and the volume numbers below are a big part of the reason Allen has been such a dominant Fantasy producer.

2017 -- 159 targets (5th) 1,424 air yards (19th) 39 red zone targets (2nd)
2018 -- 136 targets (12th) 1,164 air yards (21st), 26 red zone targets (21st)
2019 -- 150 targets (5th) 1,521 air yards (11th), 36 red zone targets (3rd)

The percentage of Allen's targets that were deemed catchable has also been quite high -- at 74.2 and 80 percent over the past two seasons. For reference, Hilton's catchable target rate over the past two seasons is 70.1 and 68.9 percent. Even in his breakout 2016 campaign, only 69.2 percent of Hilton's targets were catchable. That is partially due to the difference in the types of routes the two receivers run -- Hilton has posted an average depth of target (aDOT) of 9.9, 11.2, 12.8, and 12.2 yards over the past four seasons, while Allen's aDOT has topped out at 10.1 over that span. In 2019, Allen's aDOT was actually higher than Hilton's, yet he saw significantly more catchable targets.

Hilton has only topped 140 targets once in his career, and his route tree looks much different than Keenan Allen's. I wouldn't necessarily expect him to suddenly become a 150-plus target guy just because of the addition of Rivers.

You don't need Hilton to turn into Keenan Allen to be a value at his average draft position, though. He's currently being selected in the middle of the sixth round, as the WR25. That type of investment only requires Hilton to return to 75 or 80 percent of what he was in his 2014, 2016, and 2018 seasons with Andrew Luck throwing him the ball. Assuming Philip Rivers doesn't suffer a massive drop-off in his age-38 season, his numbers in recent seasons would suggest that he is more than capable of supporting Hilton as a top-20 Fantasy WR.

Jacob GibbsDFS Guru