In 2018, Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill broke the franchise single-season record for receiving yards, gaining 1,479 yards on 87 catches. The previous record — 1,391 yards on 78 catches — had been set by Derrick Alexander in the 2000 season.
Hill’s 2018 season was just the 16th 1,000-yard receiving season in team history. That’s just what happens when you lack a franchise quarterback for the better part of four decades.
But it brings up an interesting question: could Tyreek Hill break the records now held by Otis Taylor?
The group of 18
I put together a list of 18 Chiefs wide receivers who had at least three seasons with the team (so we could include Hill) and averaged at least 380 yards a season — the average for all Chiefs wideouts since 1960.
Greatest Chiefs WRs
This table shows that the great Otis Taylor still leads all Chiefs wide receivers in total receiving yards and touchdowns. Using this metric makes sense on a couple of levels, since it measures both production and longevity with the team.
Taylor played for 11 seasons. We see here that Hill wouldn’t have to play very many more seasons in a Chiefs uniform to eclipse Taylor’s records — perhaps as few as three or four.
But this is 2019. We use lots more statistics to measure the production of players than we did during the 1960s. Furthermore, seasons are longer, quarterbacks are significantly more accurate and teams emphasize passing more than they did when the Chiefs franchise was in its infancy. If Hill ever breaks Taylor’s records for receiving yards and touchdowns, we’ll probably want to look at some other stats to see how he compares to Taylor in other respects.
Then and now, we won’t be able to use modern statistics like yards-per-target and catch percentage, because we have data for targets going back only to 1992.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t dig a little deeper.
One might be tempted to look at receiving yards per season to compare different wide receivers, but modern NFL teams play 16 games. Until the 1970s, AFL and NFL teams played just 14. So it’s better to compare yards per game — and when we compare those figures for these 18 Chiefs wide receivers, we see something interesting.
Chiefs WRs -- Yards Per Game
Hill already leads Taylor in yards per game by a substantial margin. But we know that part of the reason for this is that the modern game emphasizes passing much more, and that quarterbacks are substantially more accurate than they were decades ago.
But armed with that information, we get another surprise when we look at yards per catch for our group of 18.
Chiefs WRs -- Yards Per Catch
In this metric, Taylor leads Hill by a substantial margin — and Taylor himself trails Carlos Carson by a tiny bit.
Again, some of this has to do with the differences in the modern game. Modern teams may emphasize passing more, but with so many teams (including the Chiefs) running variations of West Coast offenses, passes tend to be shorter. In Taylor’s day — and to some extent, even in Carson’s day — when quarterbacks passed, they were more likely to air it out. And to Taylor’s credit, his size and physicality allowed him to rack up significant yards after catch — another modern statistic for which we have had no data until recent years.
We see something similar when we compare touchdown percentage — that is, the percentage of receptions that result in touchdowns.
Chiefs WRs -- TD Percentage
Once again, Taylor leads Hill by a wide margin, and trails another Chiefs great — Chris Burford — by a small amount. Considering that one of Hill’s three seasons to date is the one where Patrick Mahomes threw 50 touchdown passes, this is a bit surprising. But it also says something about how awesome Taylor was in his era.
That point is further emphasized when we compare receptions per game.
Chiefs WRs -- Catches Per Game
You would expect more modern receivers to have bigger numbers — and except for Burford, most of those at the top of the list are more-recent players. But it also allows us to understand that Taylor didn’t get as many catches as modern receivers do, but still had a larger percentage of touchdown catches.
This is precisely why fans who watched Taylor play remember him as an electric presence on the field — and as a player who stood tall (both literally and figuratively) above many of his contemporaries.
The bottom line
If we were talking about any other player who was entering the final year of his rookie contract after setting a franchise record for receiving yards, there likely wouldn’t even be a question about whether he would remain on the team for the next several seasons. But in Hill’s case, it’s unknown what the Chiefs will choose to do with him when the upcoming season concludes. Much will depend on whether Hill is ultimately suspended by the league — and if so, for how long — and also on how fans react when he returns to the field.
It’s clear that if Hill remains for the team for another few seasons and continues to produce as he has — particularly with Mahomes at quarterback — he will stand a very good chance to break Otis Taylor’s decades-old records for receiving yards and touchdowns by a Chiefs wide receiver.
But as I hope I’ve shown here, any rightful claim Hill might make on those records shouldn’t overshadow Taylor’s spectacular play during his own time.