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Tyreek Hill can feel the maturation in his skill set

In his fourth season, one of the league’s premier receivers continues to grow.

Kansas City Chiefs v Buffalo Bills Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

As easily as catches passes now, it’s worth remembering that it was only four years ago that Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill was a rookie who had played running back in college — and was being schemed into big-play opportunities by Chiefs head coach Andy Reid.

Now, he’s one of the NFL’s elite receivers. Transitioning from gadget player to dominant wide receiver over that span followed a very quick progression. In 2017, he gained 1,183 receiving yards during his first full season as an offensive starter. The following year, he had 12 receiving touchdowns.

He’s put up the statistics and he’s made the highlight-reel plays — but now, the 26-year old playmaker is focusing on the finer details of his game.

“I just feel like I’m more mature on the field now.” Hill told reporters in his Friday press conference. “I wouldn’t say I’m complete, but the game has slowed down tremendously for me. When I first came into the league, I was just happy to be in the league. I wanted to make the big play. Now, it’s about running the slants, the hitches, running a Z-in, coming back to the ball, catching it with my hands and getting up field. I feel like I’m more mature in my game.”

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

In some ways, Hill has been forced to mature because of how opposing defenses have chosen to cover the Chiefs’ passing offense. All of its players have acknowledged the light boxes and deep coverages opposing defenses have been using to prevent some of the Chiefs’ big plays this year. It now takes discipline and selflessness to make things happen — and Hill has that mindset.

“Football is a game of chess,” Hill remarked. “I feel like if we continue doing what we’re doing — which is nickel and dime-ing all the way down the field — teams will begin to come up, play more man. It just takes time. We just have to be patient. Everybody knows us for the big play. I want to make the big play. Patrick Mahomes wants to make the big play. Everyone wants the big play, but we’ve just got to play chess. Our run game is amazing so that could help. I’m looking forward to it.”

The way defenses have begun playing the Chiefs has made an impact. Hill has been targeted on passes 20 or more yards downfield 14 times this season. In all of 2019, he saw 19 such targets. But Hill has only caught four of those 14 attempts — a much worse rate than the 10 of 19 passes caught last year.

To counter this, Hill has had to work on the other aspects of his game. That takes preparation — which starts in the film room.

“When I’m watching film against opposing corners, I look for what hands do they jam with, do they jam, do they mirror, do they break on balls well, do they tackle well — things like that,” explained Hill. “Most teams, they don’t press us. Right now, I’m just looking at the Jets, they run a lot of Cover 2. Is this corner going to push me outside? Is he going to feather me inside? Just things like that. For the safeties, I try to look at if they’re physical, do they want to tackle, can they cover — things like that.”

It’s been fun to watch Hill mature. Three or four years ago, he probably wouldn’t have been able to share those kinds of details. But now, he’s confident in his intelligence — and his abilities on the football field.

It doesn’t hurt that he has the best quarterback in the game throwing to him. Mahomes and Hill haven’t yet connected for a 100-yard receiving game this year, but it’s only a matter of time before we see the duo have a big day.