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NFL Draft

What Next Steps Must Parris Campbell Take In 2020?

  • The Draft Network
  • September 4, 2020
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The Indianapolis Colts are a team that many are selecting as the “dark horse” to really make a run at a division title as a top team in the AFC.

There are plenty of reasons to believe in them. Last year, the team finished 7-9, which was disappointing compared to expectations, but you have to remember that their franchise quarterback Andrew Luck retired just before the season kicked off and left the Colts in a tough spot. Despite that, head coach Frank Reich put together a respectable season.

This year, the Colts bring in a new quarterback in Philip Rivers, bring back what is considered to be the best offensive line in football, added offensive weapons like receiver Michael Pittman Jr. and running back Jonathan Taylor in the draft, and added a big-time defensive line talent in DeForest Buckner as their anchor in the middle to play in front of one of the brightest young stars in the game in linebacker Darius Leonard.

Pretty good spot to be in if you’re taking your bets on a dark horse this year.

The Colts were middle of the pack in the NFL with a 22.6 points-per-game average, but were in the bottom top of the NFL in terms of yards per game. Their rushing attack was ranked seventh best in the league in terms of yards, but their passing numbers were third worst. In a passing league, safe to say that was a big emphasis of change for them during the offseason.

For so long the Colts offense leaned heavily on wide receiver T.Y. Hilton. Hilton is a top deep threat talent in the NFL, and leaning on him is certainly good, but the amount the Colts leaned on him? That was probably where they started to hurt themselves. There was a stat going into the month of December that showed that, of the nine games Hilton had missed in his career up to that point, the Colts were 1-8 without him.

Hilton remains on the team, and that’s a good thing. As previously mentioned, the team also brought in Pittman Jr. to give them some size in the money areas of play (red zone, third downs, etc.). But there is another player on the roster who the Colts are hoping to get a lot more out of in 2020, and that is their second-round pick from 2019, Parris Campbell.

Campbell was a pass-catching machine at Ohio State during his final season, racking up more than 1,000 yards on 90 catches with 12 touchdowns. But those numbers didn’t exactly carry over to his first year in Indianapolis. Campbell played in just seven games in 2019, started three, caught 18 passes for 127 yards, and had just 7.1 yards per receptions.

Not great.

It was a tough year for Campbell. Early on he was still trying to grasp the offense, and while in that phase yielded playing time to more veteran receivers on the depth chart. When he did get the ball, there were flashes of good plays, but he had three fumbles, one of which was a turnover to the other team. Not knowing the offense and coughing the ball up is a good way to see yourself on the sidelines during your rookie year. 

Then came the injuries. Campbell had to have surgery to repair a sports hernia midway through the season, then suffered a hand injury the same week he returned. Once he recovered from that injury, he broke his foot, ending his season. All in all, Campbell went through a hamstring injury, a sports hernia, a fractured hand, and a broken foot. Tough for anyone to produce under those circumstances, let alone a rookie.

The biggest “next step” for Campbell is strengthening his body and staying healthy. This is something his head coach noted this offseason that Campbell has been working on.

"Parris has done a really good in the offseason of getting healthy, getting strong, getting in great shape,” Reich said. He really looks good. You know, we've got a long way to go until the season, but right now, I mean, he looks fast, he looks strong and he's poised and a very smart player. He and Philip (Rivers) had a chance to throw together a number of times before we even got started here, so I think they've been able to start to build a chemistry together, so he just needs to keep taking the next step."

Unfortunately, though, Campbell was involved in a minor car crash this summer in which he suffered a concussion. Campbell is just now returning to practice and he’s still wearing the red non-contact jersey.

The next phase of his breakout is getting confidence. For players who win with speed, as Campbell can do, there can’t be any hesitation—not in this league. You have to be able to put your foot in the ground and go the second you get the ball. When Campbell was at his best last season (when on the field), that’s what we saw. But we didn’t see it enough. That’s understandable given his injuries and being a rookie, but it’s the next step for him and a stronger 2020 campaign.

Campbell is fast, and when we say fast, we mean 96th percentile in the NFL fast with his 4.31 at the NFL Scouting Combine. At Ohio State, Campbell was very much a “get the ball in this guy’s hands early” kind of a weapon. The Buckeyes used Campbell constantly on dig and drag routes over the middle for short dump-off passes that he could take a mile, in motion with sweeps behind the line of scrimmage, and with bubble screens.

That’s something the Colts could do more of with Campbell, especially with Pittman now there to take the “X” receiver role full-time as the man on the line of scrimmage. This would, in theory, give Campbell and Hilton the freedom to be moved before the snap and would make it so these guys can get a free step or two in their release against press coverage.

Where we could see more of those shorter routes from Campbell, he could also stand to continue to improve and master his route tree down the field. Short passes that speedsters like Campbell can take for a mile are great, but they don’t happen in the NFL as much as they do in the Big Ten. The Colts need Campbell to get heavy use of that speed and quickness deeper down the field. With Hilton stretching the field, those underneath routes will be open. But Campbell himself has to keep the defense on their toes by always being a threat to attack deep.

Outside of staying healthy, confidence and an expanded route tree deeper down the field are the keys for Campbell to becoming a major feature in the Colts’ offense.

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