Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill left the Week 1 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars early with a sternoclavicular joint injury and is expected to miss four to six weeks, according to a report from NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
Hill was obviously a significant part of the Chiefs’ offense, and filling his role on the team will not be easy. In fact, the task will be so difficult that it may take three or four of the Chiefs’ offensive weapons to do it.
The first order of business for life without Hill is knowing who the new No. 1 wide receiver is going to be — the guy who will be the first option on offense and draw double teams from the defense. Sammy Watkins seems to have answered that question with his phenomenal game at Jacksonville, catching nine passes for career-highs of 198 yards and three touchdowns last Sunday.
Watkins seems to be more comfortable in the offense in his second year under head coach Andy Reid, something Reid noted on Wednesday.
“Your second year, you’re familiar with everything, from the practices to the installs to whatever amount of plays you are putting into actually knowing the play,” Reid said. “A lot of it comes off of knowing what the guy next to you is going to do; not just knowing your assignment, but knowing the guy next to you, what his assignment is so that you can play off of him. It takes a little bit of time to do that, but (Watkins) is a smart kid and he works extremely hard. We probably didn’t cut him any breaks because we had him playing all three positions. That’s another load on there. But he works extremely hard and he learned everything. You saw him improve as the season went on, too.”
The second part of filling in for Hill is finding a player with speed to draw the attention of the defense on deep routes and in motion. That translates to open field for tight end Travis Kelce, one the game’s most dynamic weapons.
While they might not be quite as fast as Hill, wide receivers Mecole Hardman and De’Anthony Thomas are speedsters in their own right. With official 40-yard dash times of 4.33 and 4.5, respectively, Hardman and Thomas should go a long way to fill in the void left by Hill.
Reid certainly believes so, and even talked about another wide receiver he thinks can help.
“We’ve rotated Hardman in. He’s played. He got to play during the OTAs. He got christened during that time. We feel comfortable that he can step in and play...Thomas has done it before. Mecole has been kind of in that position. However, we feel good working both of them. We’re OK with that. They’ll all play. They are all going to play.
“[Demarcus Robinson] knows everything. He’s got the whole thing down, too. We’re not tied down into one thing or one person, really.”
The last step to helping fill in for Hill is finding someone who is dynamic on special teams. Thomas and Hardman could split duties on punt returns, but kick returns are just as important, which could be why the Chiefs have done everything they can to keep Tremon Smith on the roster.
In order to put Thomas on the roster, the team needed to release a player, many whom thought would be Smith. Instead, the Chiefs released Byron Pringle and signed him to the practice squad, opting to keep Smith on the 53. The Chiefs must feel comfortable with what they have in Smith at kick return to keep him on the roster for so long, going so far as to switch Smith from cornerback, to running back, back to corner and now according to Reid, possibly wide receiver.
“We had worked (Tremon) Smith in (at WR) during camp, so he can also do some things for us there. I think we felt like we would be OK at that spot. However, we loved (Byron) Pringle. With that whole thing, it wasn’t anything on his performance for that.”
Only time will tell if splitting Hill’s several roles on the offense between so many players will work, but Reid seems confident in the players on his roster.
“We just go in and we play. That’s what he’ll do. We feel comfortable that we can do the stuff we do. We don’t have to change what we do.”