The Indianapolis Colts made some dramatic changes to their offense this offseason. Not only did the Colts bring in Philip Rivers to take over as their new starting quarterback, they also drafted a new wide receiver (Michael Pittman) and a new running back (Jonathan Taylor) early in the second round, and signed tight end Trey Burton to replace the departed Eric Ebron alongside Jack Doyle in two tight end sets. The Colts are also presumably hoping to get something closer to a full season out of players like Parris Campbell and (especially) T.Y. Hilton than they did last year.
Alongside all those newcomers and hopeful injury returnees, the Colts have several players in place whose roles seem at least a bit up in the air. Zach Pascal, who emerged last season as the team's No. 2 wideout, would obviously lose ground to a returning Hilton, but also seems likely to cede work to both Pittman and Campbell, given the latter's pedigree in comparison to the third-year undrafted free agent out of Old Dominion. Incumbent running back Marlon Mack seems extremely likely to see Taylor eat into his workload, if not get surpassed by him entirely; the Colts took Taylor with the No. 41 overall pick when Mack was headed into the final year of his deal, and signs don't get much clearer than that.
And then there's Nyheim Hines. He's operated as the team's third-down back for much of the past two seasons, playing 37.9 percent of the team's snaps while earning 137 carries and 139 targets. He was an especially valuable release valve for Andrew Luck early in the 2018 season, but once Mack returned from injury he took over the majority of the backfield work for the remainder of 2018 and most of the 2019 season, while Hines took a step back.
That could change in 2020, though, despite the fact that the Colts drafted another player at his position and already have a starter in place. That's largely because of Rivers, who incorporates running backs as outlet receivers far more often than other quarterbacks around the league, which means Hines could could be in line for an uptick in opportunity. Both he and the team's coaching staff seem to recognize that.
"I'm very excited," Hines told the official team website. "Been waiting two or three years, just trying to catch balls and hopefully I get a little bit more opportunity. I'm going to try and earn that. As a running back, we're the safety valve. I've always thought I was the safety valve that can take a five-yard dump and turn it into 50. That's really what I've been planning on doing the last two years and hopefully show glimpses of it. I would love to do that this year and I think with Philip back there, there would be a great possibility of it."
Head coach Frank Reich, meanwhile, directly compared Hines to former Chargers back Danny Woodhead, who carved out a sizable role as the team's third-down and pass-catching back when Rivers was under center and Reich was the offensive coordinator. And he wasn't the only back to do that while working alongside Rivers. From Woodhead to Austin Ekeler to more, Rivers repeatedly found ways to involve running backs in the passing game.
From 2006 through 2019, Rivers directed 25.3 percent of his passes to running backs and fullbacks, per an analysis of target data from Pro-Football-Reference, while the rest of the league threw only 13.9 percent of its passes to such players. Backfield players accounted for 20.8 percent of Rivers' passing yards and 17.2 percent of his touchdowns, compared to only 16.8 percent of yards and 11 percent of touchdowns across the rest of the league.
That type of distribution fits Hines' skill set perfectly, which he honed at Rivers' alma mater: North Carolina State. Hines even won the Wolfpack's Offensive Freshman of the Year award, which is named after ... Philip Rivers. It's almost like this fit is meant to be.