There is no arguing Kansas City Chiefs wideout Tyreek Hill has an abundance of talent. The 5-foot-10, 185-pound speedster ran a 4.24 40-yard dash at his pro day before his selection in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL draft. And he had the fifth-fastest speed (21.64 mph) among NFL ball carriers in 2017.
Yet Hill’s current average draft position — the 14th wide receiver taken, a mid-to-late third round pick — in 12-team, point-per-reception, or PPR, fantasy leagues might be a bit of an overreach.
Consider how Hill scored his seven touchdowns last season. A league-leading six of them came on passes at least 30 yards down field, the most since Randy Moss scored seven such touchdowns in 2007. And therein lies the problem: production like that is difficult to repeat.
For example, Moss had just one touchdown at least that long in 2008 and less than half as much in 2011 and 2012. Of the nine other players who scored at least five touchdowns in a season on passes traveling at least 30 yards in the air — a list that also includes Brandon Lloyd, Braylon Edwards, Greg Jennings, Josh Gordon, Lee Evans, Mike Wallace, Robert Meache, Jordy Nelson and DeSean Jackson — only two, Nelson and Jackson, did it twice.
|Wide receiver with five or more deep TDs||First time||Next time|
One reason for a lack of repeat performances is defensive adjustment — NFL teams will see what’s working for Hill and the Chiefs and adapt accordingly. They might not be able to completely neutralize Hill’s speed, but they can certainly tweak how they defend against him. For example, they provided Hill with an average cushion of eight yards at the time of the snap on all his targets in his rookie year but dropped that to an average cushion of 7.2 yards in 2017. That should switch in 2018.
Another reason, at least for Hill, is the change at quarterback. Alex Smith was traded to the Washington Redskins during the offseason, which elevated Patrick Mahomes II, the 10th overall pick in 2017, to the starting position.
Mahomes projects to have a modest debut at quarterback for Coach Andy Reid. Averaging the first-year performance of other passers under Reid gives us a stat line that includes 529 attempts, 309 completions, 3,418 passing yards, 22 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, performance on par with Blake Bortles of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2017, the 13th best passer in fantasy football last year. Smith, by comparison, finished third.
Mahomes had success with deep throws at Texas Tech, completing 16 of 45 passes (36 percent) traveling 30 or more yards past the line of scrimmage for nine touchdowns and two interceptions, with 24 of 45 (53 percent) passes on target per Sports Info Solutions. But that was against college competition. The average NFL passer has an on-target rate of 42 percent with Smith leading the league in this regard in 2017 at 60 percent.
If Mahomes is indeed an average deep passer in the NFL, and Hill is once again targeted 18 times this far down field, and his touchdown rate remains the same as it did in 2017, we would expect him to catch three or four deep touchdowns passes, not six like he did in 2017. His yardage on these plays would drop from 597 to approximately 376 yards as well, resulting in a total loss of 40 fantasy points in PPR leagues. That’s enough to drop Hill from the ninth-best wideout to No. 19 overall, where similarly regarded receivers are being selected in the fourth or fifth round of mock drafts. If Mahomes is below average, Hill’s production could drop even further.
Plus, the signing of Sammy Watkins, another deep threat, over the summer could have Hill competing for long-range targets. Watkins was targeted on 53 percent of the Rams throws of 30 yards or more in 2017, slightly more than Hill’s share with Kansas City (50 percent). Watkins, however, didn’t have as many catchable throws as Hill, but of the three Watkins did have a chance at he caught two for 101 yards and a score.
|Throws 30+ yards in the air in 2017||Team||Targets||Catchable targets||Recs||Yds||TDs|
|Per Sports Info Solutions|
And so far, Watkins is earning rave reviews.
“We’re moving him all over the place, and he’s handled it,” Reid said of Watkins to ESPN’s Adam Teicher. “We’ve overloaded him with that. That’s how we do it in this offense. That’s something new for him. You can tell he’s a guy that takes it away from here and studies. When we’re doing all these different formations, you’ve got to do that. You just can’t get it all when you’re here. You’ve got to go back and you’ve got to review, and he’s done that and he’s really limited the mistakes for all we’ve given him.”
Mahomes is also impressed. “He made some catches sometimes that I don’t know how they’re possible,” he said.
That could just be new teammates pumping his tires or perhaps the start of some chemistry that could take away opportunities from Hill.