Lost amid the chatter surrounding the Chiefs’ controversial selection of receiver Tyreek Hill in the fifth round of this year’s NFL Draft were Hill’s final words on his first conference call with the Kansas City media.
When asked what he can bring to the Chiefs on the field, the 5-foot-10, 185-pound dynamo was not afraid to state his intentions.
“I’m a more of a vertical threat, special-teams guy — I’m also a third-down back,” Hill said at the time. “I really can do it all … I will do whatever it takes to be one of the greatest fifth-round draft picks ever.”
Not only has Hill essentially taken over De’Anthony Thomas’ job as the slot receiver on the Chiefs’ run-pass option plays — Hill has three carries this year — he is also earning some occasional time as a slot receiver in place of last year’s No. 2 receiver, Albert Wilson.
Wilson has played more than three times as many offensive snaps as Hill (162 to 47), but Hill has one caught one more pass than Wilson (11) for 3 more yards (67) and has also caught two touchdown passes, which is tied for the team lead with star tight end Travis Kelce.
But that’s not where his impact ends. Hill is ninth in the league in both kickoff-return average (22.6) and punt-return average (13.4), numbers that would actually be much higher had he not had a 105-yard kickoff-return touchdown against the Texans and 78-yard punt-return touchdown against the Steelers called back on penalties.
In all, Hill has 32 touches, second-most on the team behind only lead back Spencer Ware (54).
Not bad for a fifth-round pick.
“He’s growing weekly,” receivers coach David Culley said. “Each week, he does something better than he did the last week. I’m confident that it’s going to get better and better.”
Both Culley and head coach Andy Reid noted that Hill — who did not play a ton of receiver in college, either at Oklahoma State or West Alabama — is not where he needs to be yet. But Culley said Hill keeps getting better with each rep, thanks to some natural skills that go beyond the physical.
While much has been made of Hill’s elite burst and speed (his 4.24 40-yard dash time at West Alabama’s pro day in March has shown up on the field), he’s also shown the ability to make some key sight adjustments. Reading defenses on the fly is a staple of Reid’s offense.
“Oh yes, he can do that,” Culley said. “He’s just a natural. That’s just natural instincts, where guys see things happen. Sometimes we say: player, when things break down on the field, you’ve just got to be a football player and adjust. Well, he has the ability to do those types of things.”
Hill has also shown signs of being an effective special-teams player, and not just as a returner. He and fellow rookie receiver Demarcus Robinson have teamed up to form an energetic duo as gunners on punt coverage.
Hill is among the Chiefs’ special-teams leaders in tackles, with three.
“They’re making plays for us, they’re (doing) what we expect them to do as far as outrunning corners and safeties,” special-teams coach Dave Toub said after the Chiefs’ week-two loss to Houston. “People see it, they’re going to start scheming them up a little bit, maybe doubling them a bit more, and we expect those things to happen. Hopefully they can keep playing at the high intensity they are.”
And as a return man, Hill — who has fielded one more kickoff (seven) than a very capable teammate in Knile Davis — continues to intrigue Toub with his potential.
“He has a lot of natural skills,” Toub said. “The thing I have to be careful of is coaching him too much. Overcoaching him makes him read too much, rather than let his instincts take over.”
The Chiefs aren’t ready to pigeonhole Hill as a gimmicky sort of offensive weapon, though. When asked directly if Hill could one day be an “X” — or outside receiver — Culley nodded.
“He can,” Culley said, referring to the position opposite the “Z,” which star receiver Jeremy Maclin plays. “Once he gets to the point where he knows what he’s doing, he can be a good player in this league.”
Culley then paused for a split second before dropping the hammer.
“At X or Z,” he said.