NFL fans have been in the midst of an ongoing debate over the past three to four years regarding the game’s top wide receiver. Randy Moss passed the baton to Calvin Johnson who then briefly passed it to Julio Jones — but Jones’ injuries and some lack of touchdown production re-opened the discussion.
Tyreek Hill has climbed his way into the rankings during that time, but he has rarely gotten the true top-five respect that he may deserve. Those attempting to rank wide receivers always knew Hill was fast, but he would often find himself ranked in the top 10 but outside the top five with the caveat of only being the most dangerous — but not best — at his position.
Looking at the production off the top, Hill leads the NFL in receiving touchdowns and is second in receiving yards. He has done that with modest yards-after-catch (YAC) production and without being a pure deep threat — outside the top 15 in both YAC and average depth of target in the NFL. Hill still remains one of the best players in both regards — but in 2020, he is winning in a variety of ways.
Production hasn’t really been the issue in Hill’s game, but rather the lack of technical skill and usage. While I may not have agreed entirely with that premise in years past, there is no chance that argument has weight this season.
Let’s take a look at Hill’s historic game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — and why it makes the case for him to be the league’s top receiver.
What exactly makes Hill so special? This play on the first drive of the game rolls all the qualities that make him so great into one, single play.
What makes Tyreek Hill so special?— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) December 1, 2020
1) Pure speed to get 20 yards downfield on a RPO
2) Ability to beat press off the LoS despite being "smaller"
3) Ball tracking over either shoulder w/o losing speed
4) Body control to elevate, adjust, attack
5) Hands flash late giving CB 0 read pic.twitter.com/3ZDtHW7Kx7
The checklist is there: speed, beating press coverage, ball tracking, ball skills and hands to finish. If you find a wide receiver in the NFL who can flash elite skills in those categories in a single game — or even a season — you will feel good about that player. Hill hit them all on the same play.
Let’s expand on each skill and how Hill is able to use it play in and play out.
It wouldn’t be right to talk about Hill and not kick it off by saying he is the fastest player to ever play the game.
He also uses his speed better than anyone else in the NFL— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) December 1, 2020
Best WRs work in threes.
Looks exactly like his usual Nine route release vs off cov. When he speed cuts outside, it looks like a text book Deep Out w/ the run off. Turns back upfield and gone. Never really loses speed pic.twitter.com/sSNs9psWfa
We’ve seen it dozens of times throughout the years; Hill can simply outrun any defender in the NFL if he does not get immediate depth and prepare himself to sprint.
What separates Hill from every other fast player in the NFL is how well he utilizes his speed. Hill makes every single vertical route stem look exactly the same — and then pairs it with his own speed. He is starting to understand how he can utilize his threat of speed to actually beat teams deep.
Look at this out-n-up route. It mimics a basic deep out route with speed cut. Hill runs off the cornerback and then flashes his hips and head toward the line of scrimmage, which triggers the second move of the route. This instantly makes the cornerback think he just got beat on an out route because he’s already been forced to respect the vertical stem and now has to make up a bunch of ground.
But Hill isn’t done. He turns it back upfield — without losing much speed — and now has a slower player heading in the wrong direction. Hill used the threat of his speed to set up the cornerback — and then finished off the play beating the cornerback with that same speed.
I also can’t say enough about the body control and athleticism at the end of this play, maintaining some level of momentum while twisting a full 360 degrees and catching the football.
Working vs Invert Tampa2, Hill knows he's gonna be hit in the C2 hole but still brings the ball in.— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) December 1, 2020
Good body control to work by the CB w/o being redirected but the ball tracking & ability to go up, high point the football, and then absorb the hit were great. pic.twitter.com/bBslD5g2ML
Here we see Hill working a vertical up the sideline against Invert Tampa-2, which essentially means he’s catching a football between two players who are trying to keep their eyes on him.
Hill knows he is going to have to go get this football in traffic — and will likely take a hit in the process. The subtle adjustment working past the cornerback allows him to maintain his speed and path. He then turns his head, locates the football and begins to size up the catch point.
Hill elevates quite high and plucks the football out of the air — but he isn’t done. After snagging the ball, he’s able to use his extremities to whip around and turn his body back upfield on the off chance he can land cleanly and continue running upfield.
Oh....and he has the build and strength to absorb a massive hit from a safety closing in.
Anyone who has seen Hill knows he’s quite rocked up, but that clearly translates to play strength on every level of the field.
Other underrated part about Hill's game is his strength. Both at the catch point and off the LoS, he's very hard to re-direct and consistently fights through hands and body contact.— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) December 1, 2020
TB kept pressing w/ a BIG, strong CB but even when he did get hands on, Hill ran through em pic.twitter.com/dsqFXFVQwT
We saw Hill’s strength — and his density to absorb a hit — on the play before, but what about in a more traditional sense? There is a reason Hill is incredibly hard to press at the line of scrimmage. Part of it is his speed and agility. The other is the fact that he can out-muscle defenders and maintain his path.
Whether basic hand-fighting and swiping, chopping the jam away or simply absorbing the punch and continuing to run through it, you have to really land your hands squarely on Hill (or be named Jalen Ramsey) to press him at the line of scrimmage.
Very few cornerbacks have the athleticism or strength to even attempt to match Hill off the line of scrimmage.
Ball tracking and hand technique
Let’s combine these last two skills because we’ve seen various examples of both throughout all of these plays.
Very similar to Hill's first TD. Beats the press with his feet and uses his hands to maintain his split.— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) December 1, 2020
The hand technique at the catch point makes this one (and the throw). Tracking the ball w/o losing speed. Doesn't show hands until last sec and catches tight to avoid a rake pic.twitter.com/rBrgeAE3S8
On this play, Hill gets to the cornerback’s outside shoulder while working upfield. He is then able to look back for the ball. Despite the contact, Hill keeps his path, speed and position while working his way toward the football. What makes it even better is how long Hill waits to flash his hands and make the catch.
Much like the first play shown, there isn’t much of a chance for the cornerback to react to Hill’s hands giving away the pass location because of how late he uses them. As if that wasn’t enough, Hill makes the specific decision to catch the ball in tight to his body up and over his shoulder. Because he had run the cornerback inside while tracking the ball, he boxed him out of the initial catch point. Catching the ball in tight reduces any chance for the cornerback to slap the ball away as he catches it.
It was a perfect combination of ball tracking, body placement and hand technique to finish off his third touchdown catch of the game.
The bottom line
Most Kansas City Chiefs fans know how good Hill is at football. Most NFL fans know what kind of impact he has on the game week in and week out. After this season, analysts may finally begin to get on the same page and realize just how good a wide receiver Hill really is.
He’s not just a speed or gadget guy — or even what would be considered a deep-threat wide receiver. He does everything you can ask out of a No. 1 wide receiver — and he’s steadily built up a refined skill set to pair with the freakish athletic traits that had already positioned him as the “most dangerous.”
Bonus: the game-clincher
If this all wasn’t enough to showcase Hill’s development and elite ability as a true WR, let’s close the post as we closed out the game — with his beautiful comeback route.
Final one, 3rd and 7 to end the football game. No need to go anywhere else in this one..— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) December 1, 2020
Hill on version of a Comeback that mimics a Wheel route under a pick play. He runs off the CB who has vertical help but has to respect the speed, nice hard cut back to the ball, game. pic.twitter.com/TB0DwYHohQ