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Tyreek Hill Successfully Developing into a Top-Flight Receiver

Posted Dec 7, 2017

Hill is more than just a former track star

The guy is fast. It’s a sight to see.

And there can’t be many football fans around the country who haven’t seen the highlights or personally watched the fastest player in the NFL in action.

Tyreek Hill—better known by many as the “Cheetah”—has become a household name for the Kansas City Chiefs after just 29 career games.

“I’m that guy who’s going to get a spark,” Hill recently explained of his playmaking prowess. “I’m laying it all out there for those guys. Trying to make those big plays, trying to be that splash guy.”

Through 29 career games, Hill has made “splash” plays at a rate that the NFL may have never seen before—scoring 19 total touchdowns (12 receiving, 3 rushing, 4 returns) over the past two seasons.

But what’s special about those touchdowns is that he’s averaging 50.3 yards per play on those scoring plays—an absurd number.

So, to clarify, Hill is scoring touchdowns at an average distance of more than half of the field.

It’s quantitative analysis showing Hill is the NFL’s most exciting playmaker. It’s math.

For comparison, there are 10 players in the league who have scored at least 19 touchdowns over the last two years, and the Steelers’ Antonio Brown—widely considered the best receiver in the game—ranks second behind Hill in terms of average yards per play on his touchdowns.

And Brown’s average? 19.4 yards per play.

So, Hill is averaging more than twice as many yards on his touchdown plays as the next-best guy.

Big scoring plays are obviously what he’s about, and while that was kind of known of him as a rookie last year—when he earned first-team All-Pro honors as a returner—the most-important development for Hill this year has been his ability to transition to a top-flight receiver. He’s showing that he’s much more than just a gadget player who only fits in certain packages.

“We all know he can run down the field and catch balls,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid explained. “I think the place he has improved the most is the intermediate routes—playing in space. I think he’s done a nice job, knowing how to use his body against different leverages and what he can get away with there. He’s learned the variety of coverages that you see in this league. It’s more than just running fast. We have a lot of fast players in the National Football League.

“It’s his ability to track the ball, set things up, when the ball is in the air to maintain your speed. A lot guys when the ball is in the air that inside arm drops it cuts their speed down three quarters and defensive backs can catch back up and roll, but he’s able to maintain his speed through these routes.”

In 12 games this year, Hill has a team-leading 911 yards receiving on 60 receptions with six touchdowns, which includes his career-day last week against the New York Jets, when he finished with six catches for 185 yards and two touchdowns.

“We’ve got a variety routes that we’re asking [Hill] to do,” Reid added. “It takes time to do that, work and time, and he’s willing to do the work part of it and it’s just a matter of the reps and getting more and more looks at it against the different coverages.”

Reid’s offense is famously complex—particularly for receivers whose routes can be based on a particular look from the defense. It’s not predetermined by the call, but rather the defensive look, which determines much of what has to happen in perfect unison with Alex Smith in order to find success on a given play. It’s all largely based on timing.

“There are so many little different releases and leverages and things that he is just getting such a good feel for,” Smith said of Hill. “Every week, you don’t know how they are going to stop you and you have to be able to combat it again in the middle of a game and I think he does a great job with that.”

Hill’s ability is no longer a surprise to who he’s up against. They know he’s fast, but before this year, they didn’t necessarily know his tendencies in getting off press coverage, or how he handles breaking off the top of his routes.

And now, the tape is out there for everyone he faces to analyze and try to find his weaknesses. It’s the game within the game.

“The biggest challenge for sure is understanding that he’s a marked man every game,” Chiefs’ offensive coordinator Matt Nagy explained. “He’s coming into these games and they’re game planning when they go into it. Last year he was kind of new to the scene and we used him in different areas, and not that we’re not still doing that now, but they’re putting in game plans for him.

“He’s adjusted well to it and got to reap some of the benefits last week.”

The Chiefs are hoping to see more games from Hill like he had last week against the Jets, and with the Chiefs facing the Raiders this week—a team Hill has made some plays against in the past—the opportunity may be there again.

Hill had six catches for 125 yards and a touchdown in the meeting with the Raiders earlier this year, and the Raiders come into Sunday’s game having given up 10 touchdown passes of at least 20 yards this season, which ranks among the most in the league. One of those was a 64-yard bomb from Smith to Hill back in Week 7.

Hill, who was considered by some to be too small to be a consistent threat at receiver in this league, currently ranks sixth in the league in receiving yards. He could also become the first player in Chiefs’ franchise history to lead the team in receiving and stand at less than 5-feet-11.

It was a question coming into the season—whether or not Hill in just his second year could develop into a top-flight NFL receiver, and it looks like he’s answered that question.

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