It’s the bye week, so it’s a time to start thinking about some things the Chiefs could do differently in the second half of their season.
Overall, the Chiefs have been a good football team. They have a 6-3 record against an incredibly tough schedule and own wins over multiple division leaders and playoff contenders. That said, there are obviously some things that could use changing.
I’ve written already about some changes Bob Sutton made to the run defense against the Cowboys, so all I’m going to say regarding that issue (which is one of the biggest ones facing the Chiefs) is that the Chiefs should stay the course with the changes they made there. So I want to focus on a few other changes I’d make that I believe would help the Chiefs down the stretch.
Let’s start with Tyreek Hill, and getting him the ball more. A lot more.
I'm working on an article as to why Tyreek Hill needs more targets. Easiest point: he's fast in a way that wrecks defenses. pic.twitter.com/utHXTgFuHI— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) November 11, 2017
(NOTE- all stats are as of 11/11/17, which means they will be out of date by the time this publishes Monday. But the point behind them stands, I swear)
Hill has been targeted 59 times this season, which has him ranked 28th in the league among players with at least 1.875 receptions per game, the qualifier used by ESPN’s stats (it would be lower, but the Chiefs haven’t had their bye yet, while most other teams have). Let’s take a look at Hill’s base stats, and see what we can derive from them.
Targets: 59 (28th)
Receptions: 40 (T-16th)
Yards: 617 (9th)
Yards Per Catch: 15.4 (17th)
Catches 20+ yards: 7 (T-22nd)
Yards/Game: 68.6 (15th)
So there are a few things worth nothing regarding these statistics. First of all, it has to be noted that despite being 28th in total targets, Hill is 9th in the league in yards.
Let’s look at it another way. Tyreek Hill averages 10.45 yards per TARGET. In other words, when Alex Smith has thrown Hill’s way, the Chiefs have gained an average of 10.45 yards. Compare that to the other league leaders in yards and you rapidly find that Hill has been wildly efficient when targeted. For example, DeAndre Hopkins has averaged 7.36 yards per target (YPT). Some other notable names...
Antonio Brown: 8.88 YPT
Larry Fitzgerald: 7.69 YPT
Julio Jones: 9.68 YPT
A.J. Green: 8.62 YPT
Doug Baldwin: 7.91 YPT
T.Y. Hilton: 10.97 YPT
Brandin Cooks: 10.42 YPT
Keenan Allen: 7.61 YPT
Really, the only players who are in Hill’s league in yards per target are T.Y. Hilton and Brandin Cooks. Both of those players share something in common with Hill in that they are BURNERS at WR, capable of huge plays. However, there is a distinction between Hill and those two: 32.4% of Hilton’s catches went for 20+ yards, and 24.2% of Cooks’s catches went for 20+ yards. Hill, on the other hand, saw 17.5% of his catches go for 20+ yards.
In other words, both Hilton and Cooks are more dependent on individual big plays carrying their total yardage and yards per target numbers, while Hill is less so despite possessing the same speed (well, more speed) as those two.
This is a lot of numbers and words, let’s break it up with a great Hill play, shall we?
Watching Tyreek Hill destroy the ridiculous "gadget player" takes has been one of the most fun parts of this season. Exceptional ball skills pic.twitter.com/vwg8UcJ3Gu— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) October 25, 2017
So what am I getting at with all this? I’m getting at the fact that Hill is not just some deep threat player. He’s not just a guy who makes a few explosive plays and then vanishes. Throwing him the ball is literally one of the most effective ways in the NFL to gain yardage, and it’s NOT just because of deep ball plays. It’s because of his overall skillset (which we’ll talk about in a moment).
Despite this, Hill has 59 targets on the year, an average of 6.6 targets per game. Now, that’s not a SMALL amount, but it’s not commensurate with a guy whose production efficiency is on pace or better than the best players in the NFL. Per PFF (thanks to @PFF_EricEager, a Chiefs fan who does a nice job giving in-depth Chiefs stats), Hill is averaging 2.16 yards per route run, which is 6th in the league DESPITE not being targeted as often as other leaders in that stat. Again, throwing the ball to Hill is one of the most efficient ways to gain yards in the league.
And yet, he averages 6.6 targets per game while Alex Smith averages approximately 29 pass attempts per game (I took Alex’s average number of attempts and subtracted 3.5 to account for throwaways, if you’re wondering how I got there. So throws to Tyreek Hill account for 22.8% of the passing offense attempts. If you’re interested, throws to Travis Kelce (7.7 targets per game) account for 26.5% of the passing offense (fair, and maybe even too little honestly).
In the meantime, the combination of Wilson/Robinson/Harris/Travis/West/DAT sees 13.9 targets per game. That’s 47.9% of the offense. Re-read that. While of COURSE it makes sense that a combination of 6 different players would see more targets than 1 player... does it really make sense that the Chiefs throw to that group of players more than TWICE AS OFTEN as they do Tyreek Hill, a guy who makes plays like this?
Tyreek Hill's speed is only part of what makes him an elite deep threat. He demonstrated that on this play against the Texans on 3rd and 16. pic.twitter.com/nmjcvDFp2V— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) October 10, 2017
I was curious as to whether this was a situation where Hill isn’t getting open as much as I believed, so I went back and watched him against the Broncos, the best coverage group the Chiefs have faced all year. Tracking wins and losses on routes (a win is where the receiver gets separation, a loss is getting covered, and neutral is where zone coverage or the receivers’ role made it impossible to ascertain), Hill did the following:
Neutral: 17 (the Broncos play more zone than people think, and Hill was often asked to be the “decoy” route drawing coverage over the top)
In short, Hill was getting open just fine. A quick review of other games without charting revealed the same thing: Hill is just tough to stick with for corners.
And here’s where we talk about Hill’s upside as a #1 WR, which is borderline limitless. As you can see in the gifs/videos above, Hill has more than just tremendous speed. He also has good quickness, which allows him to take advantage of the massive cushions corners give him to avoid getting burned deep by running quick curl/comeback/out/in routes.
How Tyreek Hill's unique skillset forces corners to give him free yards. pic.twitter.com/g99CJQLT2P— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) September 28, 2017
He also has very good hands (though he’ll have the occasional focus drop on an easy one) and does a great job focusing and tracking tough-to-catch throws.
A nice throw/catch by Alex/Hill negated by a Witz hold. Would've made this drive (ended in a punt) quite different. Penalties, man... pic.twitter.com/kIjA54B5Pf— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) September 27, 2017
That ability to track the ball and strong hands makes him different from many smaller-type receivers in that Hill doesn’t need to be wide open in order to catch the ball. He actually does a good job fighting through contact to make contested catches and is strong enough to win the fight for the ball.
Hill has no issue catching the ball with guys draped all over him or when he needs to make an adjustment, which separates him from "gadget" types. pic.twitter.com/ZIZ0356643— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) November 11, 2017
Another thing Hill has going for him is that because he’s built more like a running back than a wide receiver and is quite strong for his size, pressing him isn’t some automatic answer like it is for some smaller receivers. With his quickness, he’s often able to simply shake defenders without them ever getting a hand on him, but even if they do that’s still not a sure win.
It's not like pressing Hill is the answer. He's more comfortable with contact than many small, fast WR's and is built solidly enough to take/give shots. pic.twitter.com/EyWGNfI5L5— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) November 11, 2017
Hill has reached a point as a receiver where he runs pretty decent routes (though he rounds them off a bit at times), and has shown the ability to run tough routes against good coverage and still get great separation.
MAN I wish protection had held up on this play, because this is some slick route-running by Hill (though a bit rounded). Shrugs off contact, sells outside, then just cooks the CB up field. pic.twitter.com/b3rFoRbpTs— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) November 11, 2017
All this is a long road to a short though: Tyreek Hill should be getting the ball more.
I understand that Andy Reid’s offense is partly predicated around spreading the ball to different players so defenses can’t key on one particular guy. I also understand, again, that comparing Hill’s target percentage to that of 6 other guys isn’t an apples to apples comparison. But you cannot tell me it’s fine that one of the 5-6 best receivers in the NFL from a production-by-target standpoint gets the ball less than half as often as a group of role players. Personally, I’m not even OK with the idea that Hill gets thrown the ball less than Wilson and Robinson combined (7.8 targets per game to 6.6 targets per game), especially over a full target less per game.
Does this mean I think Hill should get 15 targets a game? Of course not. Predictability is the enemy of offenses. Will Hill maintain the ridiculous per-target efficiency if the targets go up? Likely not. At the same time, when you’ve got a genuinely unique weapon at wideout like Hill, he needs to be utilized more often than “half as much as the team’s role players.”
If I’m Andy Reid, one thing I’m figuring out over the bye is how to feature Hill more than he currently is. Because for as impressive as Hill’s first year as a full time WR has been, it could be even better. And so could the offense, if it featured more Hill.