Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton is coming off his best season in the NFL, as he was the league’s receiving title king with 1,448 total receiving yards to go along with a career high of 91 receptions, as well as 6 touchdown receptions.
Perhaps, one of the reasons for Hilton’s increased production was that the Colts actually deployed him quite differently than the team has in the past by utilizing him more in the slot.
Per NFL.com’s Matt Harmon who used ‘Next Gen Stats’:
"Sep 11, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton (13) dives for more yardage while being tackled by Detroit Lions free safety Glover Quin (27) in the first quarter of the game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports“In a normal year Hilton likely hits that mark, but the Colts actually experimented with Hilton as a slot receiver on a regular basis this year with injuries hitting the pass-catching group,” writes Harmon. “Hilton lined up in the slot on just 28 percent of his plays in 2015 but that jumped to 50 percent this year.”“Either way, Hilton was an excellent player this year. He averaged 2.6 yards of separation on his targets this year and it is worth noting that he was more effective at creating separation in the slot (2.75) than out wide (2.43). Despite his size, Hilton was more dominant at the catch point this year than any other in his career, winning 48.5 percent of his targets with less than a yard of separation.”"
By playing Hilton in the slot, as well as the outside, the Colts were successfully able to give opposing secondary’s different looks–thus keeping them more off-balance.
It also keeps opposing cornerbacks out of their comfort zone, as either different cornerbacks are forced to matchup against Hilton throughout the course of a game or the other team’s #1 cornerback is forced to shadow him all over the field.
Additionally, the slot is arguably more difficult to defend, as the slot receiver can either go left or right–whereas a cornerback on the outside has the luxury of playing to the sideline as a barrier on one of the sides.
Utilizing Hilton in the slot isn’t the only reason for his career season, but it could definitely be one of the contributing factors in addition to ‘The Ghost’ simply playing with a chip on his shoulder.
While no one could complain about the production, one criticism of the ‘Tom Moore offense’ under former legendary quarterback Peyton Manning was that Hall of Fame wide receiver Marvin Harrison always lined up on the right side of the offense with fellow star wide receiver Reggie Wayne on the other side–making the Colts passing attack much more predictable.
Obviously, it didn’t hurt ‘Peyton’s passing attack’ too much in the grand scheme of things, which was consistently one of the most prolific passing offenses in league history.
However, by moving Hilton around in the offense, these Colts can add new wrinkles to their passing attack while keeping opposing secondaries completely off-balance.
Clearly, Hilton’s success in the slot this past season showed just as much, as he had a career season for the Colts.