Even with T.Y. Hilton returning, Colts need to address wide receiver in draft

This could be T.Y. Hilton's final season in Indianapolis, so the Colts may be looking for his replacement in this year's draft. AP Photo/David J. Phillip

INDIANAPOLIS -- T.Y. Hilton read the tweets and comments from his fans asking him to return to the Indianapolis Colts for his 10th season as he tested the free-agent market. He not only read them, Hilton “loved every minute” of it.

The wideout is back with the franchise that selected him in the third round of the 2012 draft, passing up a multi-year deal with the Baltimore Ravens to return to Indianapolis on a one-year deal.

“I could have taken [the Ravens’ deal], but I didn’t want to,” Hilton said. “Then the one-year deal came with Indy and it made sense for me. After this one year, I’ll re-evaluate everything, see how my body is feeling and if I want to keep going, I’ll keep going. If not, I’ll hang it up. We’ll see how everything goes.”

One and done.

That could be it for the 31-year-old Hilton. So that means at this time next year, the Colts could be looking for Hilton’s replacement.

Or they could start the process this year, especially considering the amount of unproven talent currently on the Colts' roster at wide receiver.

Hilton, Michael Pittman Jr., Zach Pascal and Parris Campbell are the only receivers on the roster who caught a pass for the Colts last season.

That looks like an impressive four receivers on paper, but Hilton has topped 1,000 yards receiving once in the past four seasons and Campbell has played nine games during his first two seasons in the NFL due to injuries.

That’s why it wouldn’t be surprising if the Colts use one of their six picks in the upcoming NFL draft to select a receiver.

But before you get too excited, you might as well cross LSU’s Ja'Marr Chase, Alabama’s Jaylen Waddle and Devonta Smith, and Ole Miss' Elijah Moore off your list. Not only will those players likely be off the board by the time the Colts pick at No. 21 in the first round, the team has more pressing needs before adding depth at receiver, like pass-rusher and offensive tackle.

And based on the Colts’ needs, it also probably means players like Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman and Florida’s Kadarius Toney will also be gone before the Colts pick a wideout.

The good news for the Colts is this is supposed to be a deep enough draft at receiver they may be able to select a good one in the later rounds. Indianapolis doesn’t have a third-round pick after giving it to Philadelphia as part of the trade for quarterback Carson Wentz. The Colts currently have one pick each in Rounds 4-7.

Among the notable receivers who could be available on the third day of the draft: USC’s Amon-Ra St. Brown (41 receptions, 478 yards and seven touchdowns in six games in 2020), Michigan’s Nico Collins (37 receptions, 729 yards, seven touchdowns in 2019), Tennessee’s Josh Palmer (33 receptions, 475 yards, four touchdowns) and Wake Forest’s Sage Surratt (66 receptions, 1,001 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2019).

Whether this is Hilton’s last season with the Colts or not, or if the team selects at least one receiver in the draft, he plans to enjoy playing with Wentz.

“We’ve been talking since we got him here,” Hilton said. “He just wants to play football with me. We are just constantly texting and he was just always there throughout the free agency, ‘I hope we can get you here, man. I want you to stay here. I want to be able to throw passes to you,’ and just constantly us wanting to get together and just play. I look forward to it and it should be fun.”

Hilton went as far as to compare Wentz to Andrew Luck, who was also part of the 2012 draft class with the receiver. Four of Hilton’s five 1,000-yard receiving seasons came when Luck was the primary starting quarterback.

“He has some Andrew Luck traits,” Hilton said. “He can get out of the pocket, make the incredible throws. He’s a special talent, especially when he’s standing up in the pocket, delivering throws. To be able to avoid guys and make plays with his legs or with his arms, he’s a special talent. ... Me and him, it’s going to be special, it’s going to be great. We look forward to it. But he can really push me to the next limit.”