Over the past five years in Kansas City, wide receiver Tyreek Hill has grown from return specialist to No. 1 receiver to an All-Pro and leader of the Chiefs’ wide receiver room. That latter description of Hill is especially the case as he enters his sixth season in 2021, one in which the Chiefs won’t have their No. 2 wideout of the past three years in Sammy Watkins.
Watkins signed a one-year deal with the Baltimore Ravens this offseason.
“It’s definitely going to be tough,” Hill said of replacing Watkins’ production as he spoke to the media via Zoom Wednesday, “but I definitely feel like as the season goes on, guys will begin to fill that void that Sammy was filling. Having Pat (Mahomes), having (Travis) Kelce, having a great offensive line definitely helps because you got other guys to mentor those guys. Mecole (Hardman) has played, D-Rob (Demarcus Robinson) has played in Super Bowls. (Byron) Pringle. I feel like we’re going to be all right. We’ve been playing football our whole entire lives, so it’s nothing new for us.”
Robinson stands out as an option, simply considering his experience with the playbook and team, dating back to 2014. We have previously documented Robinson’s importance when Watkins was out of the lineup last season.
Robinson finished with career-highs in receptions (45) and yards (466) in 2020 — and to his point, his two best games of the season, yardage-wise, came in games Watkins was out of the lineup. Robinson had five catches for 69 yards in the 26-17 Chiefs win over the Buffalo Bills in Week 6, and he had four catches for 63 yards and a touchdown during Week 8 in a 35-9 Chiefs win over the New York Jets.
From Weeks 6 to 11, when Watkins was out of the lineup, Robinson averaged 3.8 catches for 42.8 yards. With those numbers over a 16-game season, Robinson would check in with over 680 yards, blowing his previous career-high out of the water.
But as Hill alluded to, the Chiefs have several options aside from Robinson. Hardman and Pringle are in the mix, and a dark-horse candidate to watch is the fifth-round rookie out of Clemson, Cornell Powell.
Hill noted he liked what he has seen in Powell so far during organized team activities (OTAs) and mandatory minicamp.
“He’s definitely a smart kid,” Hill said of the 23-year-old. “Me and him got similar things going for us — he was drafted in the fifth round. I was drafted in the fifth round... I had a conversation with him, telling him that, ‘If you want to play on this team, it’s a certain mindset.’ We all believe that we can dominate and be the best group in the league.
“He’s definitely coming into a tough group who loves to compete and who loves to challenge each other... I mean, he’s been looking sharp so far. Good, tough catcher, big hands, silky in his routes. He looks good so far.”
Like Frank Clark and Kelce did at their pressers on Tuesday, Hill explained the “sour” taste that still exists stemming from the team’s Super Bowl LV loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Hill acknowledged that every player on the team needs to look in the mirror but then outlined his own focus for 2021.
“I just got to keep the mindset that I can dominate the whole season,” said Hill. “Sometimes, I feel like I’ve arrived instead of just like keep that Mamba mentality and pushing throughout the whole season.”
Hill’s humility is admirable, but he could not stand to do much better, even though that remains a goal. During his first eight games in 2020, he finished with 537 receiving yards and eight total touchdowns. In his last seven games in 2020 (remember, the Chiefs benched starters in Week 17), he had 739 yards and nine total touchdowns.
He finished eighth in the NFL in receiving and tied for third with 17 total touchdowns. He seemed to be more satisfied with the team’s second straight Super Bowl trip.
“As a group — I feel like we’re great. Our bond is great on the field; our bond is great off the field... we got to look for the future, and the future is what Patrick Mahomes said, which is 20-0, so that’s what we’re aiming for.”
Watkins may no longer be in Kansas City, but between the replacement options, Hill’s mentality and that of the team, they appear poised for another deep run.