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Film Room: How The Colts Can Best Utilize Nyheim Hines in the Passing Game in 2022.

Colts' running back Nyheim Hines is one of the team's best playmakers, despite a down year in 2021. How can the Colts better utilize the talented back in 2022?

Over the course of his career with the Indianapolis Colts, Nyheim Hines has always been the perfect indication of the quarterback play in Indy. When the quarterback play was consistently good (2018/2020), he hit career highs in receptions and rushing yards.

Last year, however, was not one of those seasons. Coming off of a career best 160 touches in 2020, Hines was limited to just 106 in 2021. The biggest drop off came in the passing game, where Hines saw 25 fewer targets on the season.

Luckily, the Colts made a change at quarterback and opted to bring in veteran Matt Ryan. Ryan is a long time starter in the league that will certainly understand how to utilize Hines in the passing game (much like how Philip Rivers did in 2020). With the addition of Matt Ryan, could the Colts throw in some more wrinkles to get Hines involved on offense?

In today's film room, I take a look at Nyheim Hines as a pass catcher and how he has the potential to be used similarly to how Cordarrelle Patterson was used with Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons in 2021.

Comparing Nyheim Hines and Cordarrelle Patterson

To give a little bit of background, Cordarrelle Patterson is a 6'2" 222 pound player that started his career as wide receiver for the Minnesota Vikings. While he struggled to hit his stride as a receiver for most of his career, he did shine on special teams. Patterson is currently a seven-time All-Pro, all of which coming for his abilities as a return man.

His special teams ability is not why we are talking about him, though. Patterson was an anomaly last season for the Falcons. After totaling just 1,069 total yards on offense from 2018-2020, Patterson exploded for 1,166 yards in 2021 with the Falcons, with 548 yards of that coming in the passing game.

Switching gears to Nyheim Hines, he has always been a running back in the league. While he has developed nicely as a rusher in the past couple of seasons, Hines has always particularly shined in the receiving game. His 65 receptions in 2020 were among the most in the league by a running back that season.

While the comparisons between these two players may appear minimal, they are actually quite similar. Both have experience playing wide receiver and running back (Hines started college as a receiver) and both players boast an incredible blend of speed and acceleration.

With the addition of Matt Ryan, the Colts could go a similar route with Hines as the Falcons did with Patterson through the air in 2021.

Comparing the Two as Natural Receivers

To make this comparison, allow me to draw from some film examples of the two players. We will start by going through a couple of categories and breaking down how these players win in the passing game.

For this article, I charted every reception that Patterson had last season that gained over 10 yards. I could have charted every reception overall, but I wanted to mostly focus on the chunk plays in the offense (an area where both of these players shine). Patterson had 23 receptions that gained over 10 yards in 2021, with those receptions totaling 503 yards of offense.

For Hines, I charted his receptions that gained over 10 yards over the past two seasons of play. He finished with 29 catches for 390 yards on such plays. Diving into how these players both won on these plays is where the fun really begins.

Patterson, for instance, lined up as an receiver (either slot or outside) on 69% of these catches. His route tree was fairly limited, but he did find quite a bit of success on digs, hitches, and fly routes. His size and fearlessness over the middle was also a major factor in his success a year ago.

Hines, on the other hand, saw fewer receptions out as a receiver. On his receptions that gained over 10 yards, Hines was only out as a receiver on 38% of them. Where Patterson won as a deep threat that could put on the breaks at any time, Hines found more success underneath.

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Hines was much more successful on drags, slants, and choice routes when lined up at receiver. He is much smoother in and out of his breaks, and his usage shows this. Is there potential for him to have a bigger role at receiver going forward? I certainly think so.

Comparing the Two Out of the Backfield

Now let's look at the inverse of the last category. Patterson certainly had a leg up on Hines as a natural receiver, but Hines was more efficient and effective catching the ball out of the backfield.

68% of Hines' catches that gained over 10 yards over the past two seasons came on plays where he lined up in the backfield. He excelled on swing passes, option routes, and quick flare routes. Notice too how great he is at getting up field and creating yardage after the catch with the ball in his hands.

Patterson, on the other hand, only had 31% of his receptions that gained over 10 yards come on plays where he lined up in the backfield. While the quantity of targets was different between the two players in this area, notice how similar each player is in these clips.

Both players have the balance to break tackle with the ball in their hands and both can use their speed to create big chunks after the catch. Matt Ryan was all for including Patterson in the pass game out of the backfield when he could, he just didn't have as many opportunities to do so.

How Do These Two Styles Blend in 2022?

So from my brief charting of the two players' explosive receptions, it is easy to see that they are somewhat the inverse of each other. Patterson, the natural receiver, saw more receptions as a receiver in 2021. Hines, the natural running back, saw more receptions out of the backfield over the last two seasons.

So, what am I trying to state in this article? Well, that the Colts could learn from the Patterson role in 2021 to get Hines more involved in the offense. Nyheim Hines is an outstanding athlete with good hands and nimble feet. He may not be able to win vertically like Patterson can, but the Colts could take notes from how Patterson was used last year to add to Hines' game in 2022.

When a superstar like Jonathan Taylor is your starting running back, you have to get creative with how you use a player like Nyheim Hines. The Colts took the first steps last year by having Hines line up as a receiver on 124 snaps in 2021 (Patterson for comparison had 162 in 2021 with Atlanta). This year is the prime time to increase those snaps a bit and to get Hines more involved as a receiver in the passing game.

I'm not trying to posit that Hines can be everything that Patterson was in Atlanta last year, just that the Colts could mirror that role a little bit with Hines in 2022. While the two players are built a little differently, they do have some similarities on film.

The Bottom Line

Nyheim Hines and Cordarrelle Patterson were used in fairly different ways last season. With the Colts having a superstar running back that they can't take off of the field in Jonathan Taylor, maybe the team should learn from the success that Patterson had last season.

Bringing in an experienced veteran like Matt Ryan has the real potential to help a player like Nyheim Hines excel in this type of role. He was the quarterback that essentially helped revive Patterson's (offensive) career a year ago. He can do that again for Hines in 2022.

Frank Reich spoke on Hines the other day, saying that he doesn't play fantasy football but if he did, "I think I'd pick Nyheim this year. I think it's worth to consider drafting him."

For people to consider drafting Hines in fantasy leagues, he's going to need more snaps and targets out at receiver. With Hines' ability, and the lack of depth at receiver, he is more than ready for this type of role.


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