Shortly after the Chiefs drafted Tyreek Hill in the fifth round, the team’s southeast scout, Ryne Nutt, mentioned that special teams coach Dave Toub compared his return skills to former protégé, Devin Hester.
And now, five practices in their offseason workouts, Toub has not seen anything to dissuade him from that comparison, though he was careful to note that the comparison he made was more in terms of certain skills the two players shared, and not necessarily the entire package each brought to the field.
“When you evaluate players, you always compare them to other people,” Toub said after Wednesday’s practice. “He’s a dynamic returner, you can see it clearly on tape, (with) his speed, and I probably said (there’s) a couple things that he’s Devin Hester-ish.
“But to compare him directly to Devin Hester, that’s not fair to the kid, it’s not fair to Devin Hester.”
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Hester, who Toub coached in Chicago from 2006 to 2012, will go down as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, return men the NFL has ever seen. The 33-year-old Hester, who is currently a member of the Atlanta Falcons, is the league’s all-time leader in punt-return touchdowns (14) and is also tied for eighth in kick return touchdowns with five.
Hill, who boasts elite 4.25 speed and is listed at 5 feet 10, 185 pounds, posted modest offensive stats at West Alabama in 2015, when he caught 27 passes for 444 yards and three touchdowns and rushed 25 times for 254 yards and a touchdown against Division II competition.
But he made his mark as a returner, bringing back two kicks and two punts for touchdowns, and has repeatedly been running away from people throughout the Chiefs’ practices this month.
“He’s a really good catcher — he makes people miss, got great agility, great quickness and great first-step quickness,” Toub said. “And then his top speed is second to none — I mean, 4.25, that speed is real. That’s one thing we’ve learned over the last month, is that he’s got legitimate speed.”
He’s also got some receiver skills. On Wednesday alone, he caught two deep ball touchdowns over the top, and scored another one in which he caught a pass over the middle, accelerated to the corner, waved with his left hand to the defenders he ran away from and sprinted into the end zone.
“He still has a lot to learn — we haven’t even scratched the surface as far as what we’re going to put into this playbook,” receiver Jeremy Maclin said of Hill. “He’ll continue to take all of that in and continue to get better on the football field. Some guys just have that knack with the ball in their hands and he definitely has that. I’m looking forward to seeing him progress as a receiver.”
But Hill could see the field early as a returner, where the incumbents at the positions — Knile Davis on kicks and De’Anthony Thomas on punts — have had some nice moments over the past few seasons but are not entrenched.
“No question, he has the ability to do both,” Toub said. “I think he’s more advanced for a punt returner for a rookie. He’s really, really coming in at a high level. “
Hill still has much to prove, however, and will need to stay out of trouble to do it. Hill pleaded guilty in 2015 to domestic abuse by strangulation of his pregnant girlfriend, which means he could be considered a repeat offender by the NFL if another incident occurs and be banished from the league.
Hill, who also received a deferred three-year jail sentence in his plea, could also face jail time with another incident.
The Star’s Ashley Scoby contributed to this story.