Why Tyreek Hill is already a rare specimen at wide receiver for the Chiefs

KANSAS CITY, MO - DECEMBER 16: Wide receiver Tyreek Hill
KANSAS CITY, MO - DECEMBER 16: Wide receiver Tyreek Hill /

If you’re willing to do a bit of math, it turns out that Tyreek Hill could easily eclipse the Kansas City Chiefs single-season receiving record. Here’s how.

Only one team can feature the fastest player in the league at a time, so it shouldn’t really surprise anyone to hear that Tyreek Hill has what it takes to become the Kansas City Chiefs all-time single-season leader in receiving yards. After all, if the fastest player couldn’t do that at the very position he plays, then we’d have some explaining to do.

The beauty of Tyreek Hill’s potential for that record, however, is that it’s not just a pipe dream of saying, “Well, he’s lightning fast so of course he can conceivably do it.” Instead, he was actually on pace to do it just last year if Alex Smith would have only kept feeding him the ball. While he fell short with 1,183 receiving yards at season’s end, the metrics show that Hill was productive at a pace that no other pass catcher in Chiefs history—meaning wide receiver, running back or tight end—has ever shown off.

Let’s do some complex calculus and advanced algebra here. Or really, let’s keep this super simple (because it honestly is). Two things are very important here: catch rate and yards/catch.

Catch rate

Catch rate is how many receptions a player had in relation to potential receptions, known as targets. Last year, Tyreek Hill had 105 targets (or potential catches) from Alex Smith. He caught 75 of them. That’s good for a 71.4% catch rate. That’s very, very good. A quick scan of last year’s overall leaders in receiving yards show that very few players even come close to that figure, let alone passing it.

  1. Antonio Brown – 62%
  2. Julio Jones – 59.5%
  3. Keenan Allen – 64.2%
  4. DeAndre Hopkins – 55.2%
  5. Adam Thielen – 64.1%

Notice that no one in the NFL’s top five could even eclipse the 65% mark. Here’s the thing, you have to scroll all the way to No. 14 to find another player that even eclipses 70% and it’s there you find the one player better than Hill: Golden Tate. Last season, Tate was basically a lock when Matt Stafford threw him the ball with an incredible 76.7% catch rate. Other than Tate and JuJu Smith-Schuster, Hill was the only player with a 70-plus percent in the top 25 (it goes further, but we’ve made our point).

Let’s take it further in another way. Last year, 50 players in the NFL were targeted 90 or more times in their offense. The Chiefs had two of them: Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. Hill’s catch rate was eclipsed by only 6 other players and only two of those were wide receivers (Tate and Randall Cobb). The others were tight end Jack Doyle, who had only half of Hill’s yardage (which we’ll get to in a second), and pass catching backs like Duke Johnson, Le’Veon Bell and Alvin Kamara.

The summary: If you threw the ball to Tyreek Hill in 2017, he was more reliable to bring in that pass than nearly anyone else in football.

Yards per catch

Yards per catch shouldn’t really need a definition. (Just in case: It’s how many yards that player averages with every catch). It’s here in this category that you find the NFL’s best deep threats. In the top 10 last year were familiar faces like T.Y. Hilton, former Olympian Marquise Goodwin, Brandin Cooks, Julio Jones, Paul Richardson, et al.

Last year, Tyreek Hill averaged 15.8 yards/catch, good for 10th in the NFL. Taking the same list of players with 90-plus targets (meaning the top 50 targeted pass catchers in the NFL) from above, only five players had a better yards/catch rate than Hill:

  1. Marvin Jones – 18.0 yards/catch
  2. Marquise Goodwin – 17.8 yards/catch
  3. T.Y. Hilton – 16.9 yards/catch
  4. Brandin Cooks – 16.6 yards/catch
  5. Julio Jones – 16.4 yards/catch

The summary: If you threw the ball to Tyreek Hill in 2017, he was going to gain more yards with that catch than nearly anyone else in football.

The combination of the two

I’m trying my best to distill all of this down into the most simple format because I haven’t heard anyone else say this as loudly as it should be declared in NFL circles. And it’s here that you’ll see why.

The Kansas City Chiefs have a player who stands at a very rare intersection, a lightning fast wide receiver who is not only reliable to make the catch but will take that catch farther than anyone else. It’s absurd, really.

If the Chiefs threw to Tyreek Hill the same amount they threw to Travis Kelce (122 targets), Hill would have finished with 1,375 receiving yards. That’s the fourth highest total in the NFL last year!

Now let’s take this further. What if the Chiefs fed Hill the ball as much as the Steelers target Antonio Brown (163 targets)? Using the same metrics above (assuming he catches 71.4% of those targets and that he gains 15,8 yards/catch), Tyreek Hill would have hauled in 1,839 receiving yards. That’s over 300 more yards than Antonio Brown and a runaway leader in the category.

A franchise look

Earlier we mentioned how Hill could easily set the franchise record. Now you can see why. This season, if Hill had received even the same amount of targets as Kelce had (in the exercise above), Hill would have been within two yards of Derrick Alexander’s all-time mark of 1,391. Jeremy Maclin had 124 targets just three years ago. Give Hill the same and the record is broken.

What we’re talking about here isn’t some exorbitant overload in Hill’s direction. Literally dozens and dozens of players have more targets than Hill. Even his own teammate had 17 more targets in the passing game. Even the addition of Sammy Watkins, the return of Chris Conley and so on doesn’t have to take away from Tyreek Hill’s targets. In fact, the metrics look so good for Hill that the Chiefs would be silly to not feature him more than ever, despite the presence of everyone else.

A bit more absurdity

Before we conclude this, a few things just need to be mentioned:

  1. Hill’s catch rate was actually down two percentage points from his rookie season (73.5%), which means last year wasn’t some anomaly. He came into the NFL as a sure-handed receiver, so there’s every reason to believe he can continue this metric at least.
  2. Hill’s new quarterback is known for having tremendous arm strength and we can all remember moments in which Alex Smith simply missed Hill on some nice deep routes. As good as Smith was in 2017, the ceiling is still there for a much more vertical offense for the Chiefs. In other words, there’s every reason to believe Hill can continue the yards/catch metric.
  3. Hill’s numbers in 2017, as good as they were, could have been much better. Not only did he sit out the last game entirely, bu the also only started 13 games. He also dealt with a neck injury and hamstring problems at midseason. In other words, in only 13 starts and 15 games, Hill put up those numbers that still stood among league leaders.
  4. Last year was his first year exclusively at wide receiver.
  5. Tyreek Hill is only 24 years old.

Bringing it home

In 2018, you are likely going to be watching the best wide receiver the Kansas City Chiefs have ever put on the field at Arrowhead since Otis Taylor, and even then, you have a real debate on your hands. Tyreek Hill is not just a very fast player. He is also a very reliable pass catcher. Together those assets might make him the best wide receiver in the National Football League—if only the Chiefs would feed the beast enough to let him show it.