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Parris Campbell could be a surprise breakout candidate and viable fantasy football option

Despite playing just nine games in his first two seasons, the former Buckeye could be a sleeper with upside in 2021.

Campbell has experienced bad luck as a pro, but still has potential to be great
Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

It’s been a rough couple of years for former Ohio State wide receiver Parris Campbell. Do to know real fault of his own, thus far in his NFL career, Campbell has been unable to show just what he is capable of as an pro wide receiver. The former Buckeye speedster has been plagued by injuries, limiting him to just nine game over two seasons for the Indianapolis Colts.

When healthy, however, he has shown glimpses of the big-play ability that made him so dangerous at Ohio State. Unfortunately, the NFL is a “what have you done for me lately” business, and Campbell has done far more rehab than he has playmaking. The Colts may start to become impatient with him, but there is still tremendous upside for both the team and fantasy football players when it comes to Campbell.

Let us not forget what Campbell did during his time in Columbus. As a senior, he had 90 receptions for over 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns. He ran a 4.31 forty during the pre-draft process, and cemented himself amongst the top tier of wide receivers in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Beyond his ability to catch the ball and make plays in the passing game, Campbell was an electric kick returner when given the opportunity for Ohio State. The game-breaking ability is still there; it is learned and developed over time, not just a result of one’s physical gifts.

If you (or anybody else, including his Indianapolis coaches) needs to be reminded of Campbell’s freakish athleticism, go back and watch the 2018 Michigan game. He racked up 192 yards and two touchdowns, highlighted by a 78-yard sprint down the sideline.

In the same season, he had over 140 yards against both Tulane and Indiana, and seven total games with seven or more catches. Campbell caught at least one pass in 27 straight games for Ohio State, which speaks to his ability to get open against any defense.

Although 2018 was far and away his best season at OSU, he was not a one-season wonder. He had nearly 600 yards receiving in 2017, and led the Big Ten is kickoff return average in 2016. The ability was always there, and Campbell improved his game year after year; 2018 shot him up the draft boards, and he was taken in the second round, 59th overall.

Campbell was in-line to contribute for the Colts as a rookie, but played in only seven games. He suffered at least four different injuries, three of which required surgery. Brought in to potentially replace T.Y. Hilton, he instead became an observer for most of the year. Even when healthy as a rookie, Campbell was rarely 100%. Furthermore, Andrew Luck surprisingly retired prior to the 2019 season, and Jacoby Brissett was forced into action. He and the rookie wide receiver had virtually no time to develop chemistry.

Campbell was seemingly healthy heading into his second season, and again showed glimpses of his potential. In Week 1 of 2019, he had five catches for 74 yards out of the slot position; Indianapolis used him in the screen game, across the middle, and as a runner during those first two years. Unfortunately, the injury bug jumped up and bit Campbell again in Week 2. He suffered a torn MCL and PCL, essentially ending his season. Although he avoided a torn ACL, the damage to the other ligaments was too much to overcome.

So Campbell is oft-injured, has 24 career catches in the NFL, and the Colts are starting the season with a new quarterback for the third time in three years. What makes me even remotely confident in the receiver’s fantasy potential? Maybe I am being a homer, but I believe the big-play ability is still there. Campbell is built like Tyreek Hill or Desean Jackson, and possesses arguably the same combination of speed and athleticism. I’m not saying he will be as good as either of those other receivers, but there is at least a comparison to be made.

Campbell was (or is) known for making people miss in space and racking up yards after the catch. He will have ample opportunity to do so this year. The Colts are relatively thin at wide receiver, and Hilton is the only known commodity with even a remotely similar skillset. Hilton is getting older, and the team’s other starting wide receiver — Michael Pittman Jr. — is a bigger-bodied, jump-ball enthusiast.

The Colts also brought in Carson Wentz via trade during the offseason, and he and Campbell have had time to work together. Wentz is the no-doubt starter, and he loves to throw the ball (for better or for worse, depending on which fanbase you ask). He has played with Desean Jackson, and seemed to be more comfortable with a true home run threat on the field.

The quarterback definitely struggled over the last few seasons, but the Philadelphia Eagles’ offensive line and running game could be accused of doing the same. The Colts are better than the Eagles across the board. Quenton Nelson anchors a good offensive line, Jonathan Taylor leads a strong running game, and pass catchers are at least more prolific than Travis Fulgham and Greg Ward. Wentz and Campbell have spent a lot of the offseason working together, so the groundwork is laid for this duo to produce.

Lastly, I believe Campbell will produce because, frankly, he is running out of time to do so. At least in Indianapolis. As a third-year player, Campbell is eligible for a contract extension after the season. If his play does not yield results, he is at risk of being released or playing out the string of his rookie contract with no future certainty. It is the harsh world of the NFL — which some say stands for “Not For Long.” If a young player disappoints, even due to injury, he is more likely than not to bounce around the league or be bounced out of it altogether.

I hope that is not the case with Campbell, and I do not believe it will be. He has already established a rapport with the new quarterback, and plays in what should be a really good offense. There is not another receiver on the Colts roster who possesses his combination of speed and YAC ability, and with Hilton and Pittman Jr. on the outside, Campbell should see his fair share of single coverage in the slot. If the team is able to get the ball in his hands, and the former Buckeye can stay healthy, I expect WR4 or better results. Draft him late, or make him a priority on the waiver wire. Give him some time to get re-acclimated to the speed of the NFL game, then watch him make plays in open space. We’ve seen it before, and I expect to see it again.