T.Y. Hilton, Malik Hooker among PFF’s underrated free agents

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Kevin Hickey
·3 min read
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The Indianapolis Colts have roughly 20 players set to hit the market in free agency when the new league year arrives in mid-March, including wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and safety Malik Hooker.

As the date for the legal tampering period gets closer, the Colts will have some big decisions to make. Whether they want to re-sign Hilton will be among those decisions over the next few weeks.

As free agency approaches, Pro Football Focus listed Hooker and Hilton as the most underrated players at their position in free agency. Here’s what they had to say:

Projected contract: Three years, $28.5 million ($18 million guaranteed)

The wide receiver free agent market is going to be hot and heavy in March. Several teams are in need of a reliable wideout, and we are likely to see most of the top free agents at the position — players such as Chris Godwin, Allen Robinson II, Kenny Golladay and Will Fuller V — receive the franchise tag. Hilton isn’t quite on the same level as those receivers anymore, but he should be a good consolation prize with a contract of this nature.

Hilton was once considered one of the league’s best deep threats, but that production has tailed off in the years since Andrew Luck‘s retirement. With Jacoby Brissett and Philip Rivers running the offense, Hilton has only brought in 190 yards from vertical targets over the last two seasons, which is less than half of his 2018 total of 397 that ranked seventh in the NFL.

Sure, Hilton has lost a step and may not possess the 4.34 speed he once boasted. However, it’s also worth considering that injury, quarterback play and usage got in the way in 2019, while the offense was a bit limited with Rivers’ declining arm in 2020.

Hilton did post a top-15 receiving grade on targets at the intermediate level in 2020, so it wouldn’t be crazy to say he can still add value as a vertical threat if paired with the right quarterback. Perhaps going to Jacksonville to pair up with eventual No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence would squeeze that last bit of juice out of him and help reclaim the production we saw from him back in 2018.

Here’s what they had to say about Hooker:

Projected contract: One year, $2 million (zero guaranteed)

For that kind of contract, any cash-strapped team in need of a single-high safety should absolutely be in on Malik Hooker.

The 2017 15th overall pick has had an issue with injuries throughout his career, most recently a torn Achilles in 2020. Still, Hooker can provide quality coverage over the middle of the field when he is healthy. He even managed to generate the 25th-most WAR among all safeties in the 2018 and 2019 seasons combined.

There is a shot the Colts re-sign Hilton but both parties have mentioned the money has to be right. As long as the Colts don’t disrespect him in their offer, its hard to see him going anywhere.

Hooker, on the other hand, is likely gone after being usurped by Julian Blackmon. The former first-round pick suffered a torn Achilles in Week 2 and is likely taking a prove-it contract in free agency elsewhere.

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