It’s been almost two years since the Kansas City Chiefs traded wide receiver Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins. Sunday’s matchup at Deutsche Bank Park in Frankfurt, Germany will be the first between the teams since then.
So after spending years preparing for ways to use the electricity Hill brings to the field, the Chiefs are working on how to stop it.
Kansas City defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo isn’t yet sure of the right approach.
“I don’t know,” he joked on Thursday. “Get him on our team? Can we get him back?”
That’s what it might take. Hill is the NFL’s top wide receiver, leading all players in receiving yards and touchdowns. He’s on pace to accumulate 2,156 yards by the end of the season, which would eclipse the current league record by almost 200 yards.
He’s racked up those numbers by continuing to display the unprecedented explosiveness and speed he had during his years in Kansas City. Spagnuolo believes that Hill will be fired up to play against his former teammates in the Chiefs’ secondary — although just one player in the group was with the team in 2021.
“Only L’Jarius [Sneed] has gone against Tyreek, I believe,” said Spagnuolo. “The one thing about Tyreek [is that] he practiced as hard as he played. So when our guys would go against him in practice, they were getting a game-day Tyreek Hill — not like some guys who go 80 percent.”
While safety Justin Reid never faced Hill in practice, he did match up against Hill while he was with the Houston Texans from 2018 through 2021.
“You just can’t be afraid,” Reid told reporters in the locker room on Thursday. “You have to go up there and use your technique — put hands on him when you can — and trust that you’re going to have some help over the top.
“You want to let the fastest guy in the league just have a running start at you? It probably isn’t a good recipe for success.”
Even though every opposing defense wants to prevent the ball from getting into his hands, Hill is tied for the league’s second-most receptions. That’s largely because of how well Miami uses pre-snap motion in its offense.
“They use it really, really effectively,” Spagnuolo said of the Dolphins’ approach. “My guess is once they got there and saw what Tyreek could do, they said ‘Oooh’... You can invent some things when you have that kind of skillset. They make it challenging.”
While Hill is the key piece for Miami’s side of the chess board, the Dolphins have other players with game-breaking speed. Before he was drafted, wide receiver Jaylen Waddle ran a 4.37-second 40-yard dash — and running back Raheem Mostert posted 4.32-second 40 at his college Pro Day.
So Spagnuolo is aware that his game plan can’t be focused solely on Hill.
“They have speed all over the place,” he acknowledged. “We have to pick our spots. We certainly don’t want the most dynamic guy to wreck the game, but if you pay attention to one guy, they have plenty of others that can beat you. That’s what makes them dynamic: the skillsets they all have.”
The defense is likely to be the only unit that will have to deal with Hill’s playmaking — but this is a special game for the former Chief. Dolphins’ head coach Mike McDaniel seems like someone who plays into the motivation of his players — something Kansas City’s special teams coordinator Dave Toub has noticed. So while he doesn’t expect to see Hill as a returner, he is prepared for that possibility — because he (and most of the other Chiefs coaches) know Hill very well.
“I know he’s banging the table to do it,” he told reporters on Thursday. “He would love to get a few punt returns against us — or maybe just try to get one. We talked about that. He’s dangerous; he’s the most dangerous guy there is. We know what he brings to the table.”
Offensive coordinator Matt Nagy was the team’s quarterbacks coach when Hill was drafted, and knows what Hill can do.
“He’s a phenomenal tracker when the football is in the air,” Nagy recalled. “I can remember [in] his rookie year, he never dropped a pass in training camp.
“We went to the Pro Bowl — and he [was] there his first year. All these Pro Bowlers [were] there — and they’re watching him. [They were] in awe of how fast he is — and his size. That’s the first time it hit me... You put [him] with the elite — the best of the best of the best — and they’re in awe of him.”
Since that exciting rookie year, Hill has become an elite wide receiver — maybe the best in the league. While he was great in Kansas City, he wasn’t the only great pass catcher. Now, however, he is the true focal point of the league’s best offense. It is a testament not only to his talent, but to how well Miami is using it.
And considering the personalities of both Hill and his new head coach, there’s a chance he’ll be weaponized even more than usual as he plays against the team that traded him away.