INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The history lesson left Nyheim Hines grasping at names, and kicking himself for being third in the pecking order.
Most receptions by a rookie in Colts’ history?
“Wasn’t it Bill Brooks?” Hines asked, semi-certain of his response.
“Hmmm, I don’t know who the second one is,” he said. “Edgerrin James?”
Nope. Marvin Harrison.
“OK. Wow,” Hines said with a smile. “What, I was at 63?”
“What’s the record?”
Sixty-five, by Brooks in 1988. Harrison finished with 64 in 1996.
“Dang. I wish I didn’t drop the ball early in the season,” Hines said. “Oh yeah, I had like three drops I know for sure.”
NBCSports.com charted Hines with four drops, and the most glaring reared its head during the second quarter of the week 6 loss at the New York Jets. Hines inexplicably jumped for an Andrew Luck pass in the end zone, lost control of the football and slapped the ground in disgust.
“He threw it low and I thought it was high so I jumped,” Hines said, shaking his head as he reviewed the play in his mind.
But we’re not here to dwell on Hines’ drops or what might have been. We’re considering a rookie season that has far exceeded what general manager Chris Ballard envisioned when he invested a fourth-round draft pick in a versatile running back out of North Carolina State.
The Colts knew they were getting a special talent. At N.C. State, he was – take a deep breath – an elite sprinter for the indoor and outdoor track teams; an accomplished receiver early in his career; a legitimate returner throughout; and finally one of the ACC’s premier offensive threats who averaged a conference-best 143.6 all-purpose yards last season. He rushed for 1,399 yards and 13 TDs and caught 89 passes for 933 yards and another TD before entering the NFL draft with a year of eligibility remaining. His 4.38 40 time at the NFL Combine was the fastest among running backs.
But while the Colts were intrigued by the possibilities Hines brought to Frank Reich’s offense, they didn’t expect him to develop quite as quickly as he has.
“Yes, he has definitely exceeded expectations,” Reich said. “We knew we had a role in mind for Nyheim when we drafted him after looking at his college tape. Chris and his staff did a great job of really getting Nyheim in front of our eyes as well . . . seeing what he could do for us.
“But he has greatly exceeded I think the role that we had envisioned. He’s just developed faster. We thought we could get where he is right now, but I think he’s just ahead of the process. Because of all the work that he puts in, Andrew has a tremendous amount of trust in him.”
Heading into Saturday’s AFC wild-card meeting with the Texans in Houston, Hines is third in rushing with 314 yards and two touchdowns on 85 attempts, and third in receptions with 63, trailing T.Y. Hilton (76) and Eric Ebron (66).
The 63 receptions not only are third-most by rookie in Colts’ history, but rank third among rookies this season behind the Giants’ Saquon Barkley (91) and Atlanta’s Calvin Ridley (64).
And what’s noteworthy about Hines’ involvement in the passing game is the vast majority of his receptions haven’t come as a check-down option for Luck. Reich and coordinator Nick Sirianni haven’t hesitated to design routes for Hines out of the backfield or align him in the slot or split out wide to create match-up issues for the defense.
They’ve tapped into his receiving background.
“We are scheming for him,” Reich said. “We are figuring out ways every week, ‘How are we going to get him the ball?’
“He’s got his routes. As the year has gone on, his route tree has gotten bigger and bigger as far as what we feel comfortable throwing to him. Again, that’s a credit to him.”
Hines is all about doing whatever it takes and being an integral part of an offense that ranks 7th overall and 5th in scoring. But he also realizes the better each player performs, the better it is for the team.
“It’s individually doing our job,” Hines said. “If we all do that, it only makes the team more successful. We have a good team and a great locker room because we all trust the guy next to us. This is the best locker room I’ve ever been in, and it’s great to be part of something like this.”
At the same time, Hines isn’t underplaying his part in the process. You know, sitting behind Bill Brooks and Marvin Harrison in rookie receptions, two players whose names are in the Ring of Honor.
“It’s kind of cool to have your own little spot in history,” he said. “Everybody plays football, but we all want to be a part of history. We want to do something special.
“It’s cool to be a part of history. I’ve been a part of history with Andrew throwing touchdowns to 13 guys. We’re the third team to go 1-5 and make the playoffs. And now (the receptions).”
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51