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Tyreek Hill: From “return specialist” to the NFL’s leading receiver

The star wide receiver still gets some motivation from a jab he received two years ago.

Kansas City Chiefs v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

From running past cornerbacks on deep patterns to high-pointing back-shoulder fades, Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill won in all sorts of ways as he tore up the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ secondary to the tune of 13 receptions, 269 yards and three touchdowns during a 27-24 victory.

After putting up one of the most prolific receiving performances in NFL history, Hill let Chiefs fans behind the curtain a bit and showed what has motivated him to get to the point of having an incredible game like this.

When asked if he was surprised to see the amount of single-coverage he did in the early parts of the game, Hill referenced a jab that former Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey took at him two years ago leading up to a 2018 matchup between the two.

“Obviously I’m a return specialist so I’m going to see a lot of single-coverage throughout the whole game,” Hill said matter-of-factly in his post-game press conference.

Ramsey labeled Hill a return specialist because he made the 2016 season’s All-Pro team in that category — not as a wide receiver. Hill responded by earning that season’s first-team All-Pro honor for wide receiver by finishing with 1,479 yards and 12 receiving scores.

The dig from Ramsey still sticks with Hill today, and it’s fueled him to become one of the league’s best pass-catchers. His monster game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers placed him atop the league leaders for receiving yards.

Chiefs head coach Andy Reid made sure to note that the success he’s experiencing isn’t accidental. He’s working hard on all the details of being a consistently great receiver.

“I see how hard he works, so I’m very excited for him,” Reid shared in his post-game presser. “[He’s] learning the position, that goes from how do you handle your body for a long season... and how do you get your quarterback to trust — early in the week — to know you’re going to be there for him. There’s a certain mentality that goes with that and it takes a certain amount of toughness to do that. I think really that’s where he’s gotten better — not that he’s always been tough, I’m not saying that — but it’s a long season and this kid runs miles. He’s like a midfielder in soccer. He’s running all over the place, and we have him in a lot of different spots. That can wear on you, and he’s just stayed strong in area. When he goes out to practice, he goes with a purpose, and good things are happening for him.”

Hill echoed the observations Reid has made about his work ethic.

“Each and every week I try to set the mindset of working hard for this team, and giving it my all because that’s just the way my mom raised me,” Hill proudly stated. “It doesn’t matter if I’m hurt, if I’m gimpy or limpy, it doesn’t matter. I’m going to go out and try to get the trust of the quarterback. There may be a few plays I feel sorry for myself, but best believe I’m going to come right back the next play and give Patrick 110% — and he knows that. I’m going to continue to do that.”

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

203 of Hill’s game yardage came in the first quarter. The Tampa Bay defense didn’t have an effective plan to slow down Hill, and quarterback Patrick Mahomes took notice.

“It was man coverage with no one over the top,” Mahomes explained in his post-game presser. “We don’t get that a lot, especially with [Hill] and his ability, but whenever we do, we try to take advantage of it.”

“At the beginning of the game, instead of that safety going over the top of Tyreek, he was going over the top of Travis,” Mahomes went on to point out. “That’s just a problem that defenses have when they go against us: we have so many good weapons, it’s hard to try to take away one guy when we can just go to the other guy. This week was Tyreek’s week, but I’m sure other guys will make big plays the rest of the season.”

It is rare that a defense would trust an individual the way that the Buccaneers’ were trusting cornerback Carlton Davis to cover Hill. Reid noted that it doesn’t matter who the defender is, one-on-one coverage with Hill is an advantage for the Chiefs.

“We feel like he’s a pretty good matchup anywhere with anybody,” Reid assured. “He’s strong, he’s quick, he’s fast, and he can catch. The quarterback trusts him. They were banged up at the cornerback position... but I would put him against anyone. He’s been doing this all year.”

Hill may not have had the explosive finish to the game to match his start — but he did seal the win for the Chiefs with a first down reception to convert on third down-and-8. Hill wanted to make sure he’s not the only one that gets credit for making that clutch conversion.

“That’s something that Eric Bieniemy preaches each and every week,” Hill shared. “We work situational football on Fridays. We were able to sneak that play in. It’s like a mini-comeback from the inside, with Sammy rubbing my guy because it was man-to-man, and I was able to win. I may get all the glory, I may get all the shine, but Sammy really made that play happen, he made my guy loop over the top, I was just able to come back for the comeback, Pat threw an amazing throw, I caught it, got the first, game over.”

From start to finish, Hill was the biggest reason the Chiefs won this game. He has transformed into a player that can single-handedly change the outcome of any game, and it didn’t always seem like that was realistic.

From a “return specialist” to an unquestionably elite wide receiver, Hill has proven what hard work and self-confidence — along with some unbelievable natural talent — can create.