INDIANAPOLIS – Follow the numbers. Pay attention to the four-year graph bar.
Then consider what might be in store for Nyheim Hines as he heads into year 5 as the Indianapolis Colts’ multi-faceted running back.
Frank Reich has.
As he headed to Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance Football Center media room Wednesday, Reich walked with Matt Conti, the team’s senior director of football operations. Their conversation drifted to Hines’ quirky career.
To sum it up: 2018, very good; 2019, just ok; 2020, very, very good; 2021, just kinda ok.
Reich laughed as he considered the every-other-year flow.
“Talking about Nyheim and I said, ‘If I was a fantasy owner, if I was going to be in a fantasy league, I think I’d pick Nyheim Hines this year,’’ Reich said. “I think I’d consider drafting Nyheim.’’
This wasn’t Fan Boy predicting another uptick in Hines’ involvement in the Colts’ offense.
This was the play-caller for that offense.
As Reich and general manager Chris Ballard sifted through the wreckage of last season, the discussion often included how better to use Hines. He posted career bests in yards per carry (4.9) and per reception (7.8), but his opportunities – 96 touches, matching a career low – tailed off.
At the NFL Scouting Combine in February, Ballard clicked off the Colts’ three offensive playmakers:
*league rushing champion Jonathan Taylor, “who I think is elite.’’
*wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr., “who I think is really good.’’
*Hines, “who we’ve got to get involved more, and when he’s involved more we usually do really well offensively.’’
Reich reinforced Hines’ value to the offense this week.
“We all know Nyheim is a playmaker, and we want to feature him,’’ he said.
Truly featuring Hines hasn’t really been the objective since the Colts selected him in the 4th round of the 2018 draft. He joined a backfield that revolved around Marlon Mack, then transitioned to Jonathan Taylor in 2020.
The goal has been including enough snaps – enough opportunities – each game to maximize Hines’ Darren Sproles-like skills. That can be dicey considering Taylor’s dominant presence (a franchise-record and NFL-best 1,811 rushing yards in ’21) and Pittman’s continued emergence (a career-best 1,082 yards last season).
“I’m not a starter, and I know that, and I know my role,’’ Hines said. “So, try to get in where I fit in, and hopefully I exceed expectations and I just have more opportunities.’’
That brings us back to Hines’ quirky four-year production arc.
2018 with Andrew Luck at quarterback: 148 touches (85 rushes, 63 receptions), 739 yards from scrimmage, 44% of the offensive snaps.
2019 with Jacoby Brissett: 96 touches (52 and 44), 519 yards, 32%.
2020 with Philip Rivers: 152 touches (89 and 63), 862 yards, 36%.
2021 with Carson Wentz: 96 touches (56 and 40), 586 yards, 32%.
Following that up-and-down trend, 2022 should be bullish for Hines. And as we mentioned, Reich and Ballard have been adamant they need to get him more involved.
“Even though that’s the plan, I have to go out there and earn that plan,’’ Hines said. “It is good to hear, and I’ve heard it a lot. I’ve tried honestly not to think about that and come in here every day to work and really just make the most of every opportunity because it really doesn’t matter what he says or what can happen.
“If Frank calls a play for me and I go out there and drop it, I mean, I’m not going to get many more opportunities.’’
Hines suffered a rare drop in the Colts’ rain-soaked 30-18 win at San Francisco in week 7 last season – it might have been a 79-yard TD – but has been reliable and productive whenever his number’s called, both as a runner and a receiver. He’s caught 77% of the passes thrown his way.
But there’s no denying Hines is looking for a heavier and more impactful season in 2022. His total touches (96) tied a career low while the 40 receptions were the fewest in his career.
Consider Hines’ production over the final eight games: 15 carries for 85 yards and 16 catches for 126 yards. He had fewer than 20 yards from scrimmage in each of the last four games.
Much of that was a result of Reich deciding to rely on a Taylor-centric offense down the stretch. Even so, Hines should have had more opportunities.
The debate often was whether Reich didn’t include enough plays for Hines or Wentz didn’t target him enough.
“We had plays for him, don’t get me wrong,’’ argued offensive coordinator Marcus Brady. “He was going into the games. He had a good plan going in.
“We do want to use him, and we’ll see this offseason, just getting him more involved in different areas and lining him up in different spots and try to just maximize (and) see what he can do.’’
Hines still will get work out of the backfield – either in a two-back set with Taylor or to give Taylor a blow – and as a receiver, either shifting from the backfield to the slot or simply lining up in the slot or split out wide.
“That’s going to be the challenge for him in the offseason,’’ Brady said. “We just want to see what more he can do and bring.
“But ultimately, we want to try to get the ball in his hands in space because we know that’s where he’s great at.’’
One reason for optimism in Hines realizing a boost in his production in year 5? Quarterback Matt Ryan.
“Love him,’’ Hines said with a smile. “Like him.”
He compared Ryan’s presence to Rivers’, which bodes well for Hines. In 2020, he had career highs in touches (152) and total yards (862). He tied his career best with 63 catches.
“Kind of reminiscent of Philip with his command,’’ Hines said. “He doesn’t know the playbook as well as Philip yet, but just his detail, his leadership, him just talking to us after every route, coming and talking to every guy.
“It’s great. I think it’s going to be great for us. I think it’s going to be great for myself and this offense. I think the sky’s the limit with Matt.’’
“We have a quarterback who’s not going to force the ball,’’ he said. “He’s not going to force the ball, I’m just telling you guys that right now. He’s not going to say, ‘Hey, we’ve got to get the ball to Nyheim so I can see how many catches . . .’ He’s not going to do that.
“So it’s incumbent upon us to spread the ball around, number one, but also, hey, would we like to have Nyheim be up there as far as the end of the season when you tally up who has the catches? Do we want Nyheim to kind of be one of those two three guys? Probably, yeah.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.