Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill enjoy explosive season for Chiefs


With all of the struggles in the Kansas City Chiefs offense, two of their players are having a great year.

The Kansas City Chiefs have two players in the NFL top ten in receiving yards. Tight end Travis Kelce, who is ranked 11th in the NFL in yards has 66 receptions for 871 yards and 7 touchdowns. Kelce sits only 7 yards behind Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald for 10th place. Wide receiver Tyreek Hill sits at 7 on the NFL top receiving yards list with 60 receptions for 911 yards and 6 touchdowns.

Kelce ranked 12th in total receiving yards just last season with 85 receptions for 1,125 yards and 4 touchdowns. It’s not a surprise that he is once again climbing the list for top receiving yards as he remains one of quarterback Alex Smith’s favorite and most dependable targets. Leading the league last year for tight ends in receiving yards, he continues that top tight end play as he is leading the NFL so far this season as well.

The real surprise to many is the success of Tyreek Hill. When head coach Andy Reid named Hill the number one receiver just before the season after the Chiefs cut wide receiver, Jeremy Maclin, the criticism came flooding about how he was no more than a “gadget player”. I wrote an article earlier this season about how Hill was much more than a gadget player and the receivers he was being compared to was an absolute joke.

Most of the criticism about Hill was that he was just another “fast guy” and that “he took the league by surprise but now they know who he is”. The two names that he got compared to most was wide receivers Tavon Austin and Cordarrelle Patterson. Obviously, these takes were completely wrong as Hill has continued his success this season and has already passed his yards of last year.

There’s plenty of traits that Hill possesses which make him stand out and succeed as a true number one receiver. He can win anywhere on the field, makes big plays after the catch, great ball tracking skills, and can win against top cornerbacks in the league. The ball tracking skills are what really set him aside from other “gadget players” and “just fast guys”.

Ball Tracking Skills

To be a true deep threat a receiver has to be able to track the ball in the air and adjust accordingly to get to the catch point when running at top speed. Something that washes out other receivers who fail to master this trait and just rely on pure speed comes very naturally it seems to Hill.

Watch in this clip how Hill adjusts his speed and route to get to the catch point down the field.

Here is another clip against the Houston Texans and yes he got both feet in bounds. Absolutely remarkable how he can adjust along the sideline and the awareness of where the sideline is and get both feet in bounds.

Another issue analysts thought he would have is his size. For being only 5’10 and 185 lbs, which is the same size as wide receiver Antonio Brown, Hill plays very physical and has no problem making catches in traffic. He adjusts to this route as the ball is underthrown and goes up to get the ball with the contact in the air. Hill is surprisingly strong with his stout figure.

Can beat top cornerbacks and handle extra attention

All year defenses have schemed to stop Tyreek Hill by putting a safety over the top of his route to box him with two defenders. This makes it very tight windows for a quarterback to get him the ball. However, Hill has still been a nightmare for defenses as he obviously can still make big plays with extra attention.

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Not only is this just a great throw by Smith, but Hill going up against arguably the best man coverage cornerback in Aqib Talib and still makes plays. Great catch in a tight window to pick up the first down. Talib was the only cornerback I saw Hill really struggle with last year and while Talib does a good job of slowing him down at times, he still gives up plays against him.

Most cornerbacks refuse to play press man coverage on Hill because of his great acceleration and balance. Hill has burned Talib a couple times with this as Talib misses his immediate shove off of the line and Hill takes off around him. He also uses a stutter step at the beginning of routes to stun the cornerback to wait for Hill to choose his direction and by the time he does, Hill is long gone.

Playing ten yards off of Hill is what most teams result too but that doesn’t work most of the time either. Not only can cornerbacks find themselves giving up free yards underneath and giving Hill an opportunity with open field to make a play after the catch, but it also doesn’t save most cornerbacks from still getting burned deep.

Notice the cornerback playing ten yards off of Hill in the one above and still can’t keep up. Hill blows right past him with almost no effort as the cornerback takes too long to fully turn his hips to run down the field.

Here you see a free first down as the ball is immediately thrown to him and he’s able to make a play to get the ten yards needed. No matter how you line up against him, there’s always going to be times that Hill will burn you deep or short. Being able to win anywhere on the field is a very rare quality and something that Hill possesses.

Yards after catch (YAC)

The ability to get yards after the catch is something you must have to succeed in the Kansas City offense. Luckily, Hill is one of the best with 390 YAC yards on the season already. Only two receivers in the league have more yards after the catch than Hill through 13 weeks.

Spending time as a running back in college and returner on special teams has really turned his downfield vision into something outstanding. When you mix that vision in with his great acceleration and agility, it’s extremely dangerous. Often people look at his box score and just assume that all his catches are on long passes when in fact it was a short 5-10 yard route that he turned into a 20-30 yard play.

Beginning of something great

In a season filled with such disappointment, it has truly been remarkable to watch Hill make the jump from year one to year two as a wide receiver. This being his first full year as a receiver, you would think that he’s been playing the position his whole life with all the success he has had at just the beginning of his career.

Performing at a level that analysts preached he couldn’t, Hill has shown that every argument for why he is only a gadget player is just utterly wrong. If you go back and watch the tape, you will see how ridiculous these arguments are. With a long career ahead of him, we could see some really great years of Hill in Kansas City. Especially if he keeps improving at the rate that he already has.