KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Tyreek Hill is fast, perhaps the fastest player in the NFL. He was timed at 4.24 seconds in the 40 at his Pro Day at West Alabama when he was coming out for the draft.
But there’s much more to his game than speed. Even at 5-foot-10, the Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver has outjumped taller players for throws available to defenders — as well as himself.
“When I played basketball, I was our jump-ball man,’’ Hill said. “I was jumping against 6-7 guys and winning because I’m so quick off the ground.”
Hill also adjusts to ball well in the air, gets in and out of breaks quickly and is able to stop and start again while running without losing much time.
Add up all of Hill’s qualities, and it’s now easy to see that the Chiefs made the right decision by installing Hill as their top wide receiver last summer.
Hill leads the Chiefs with 986 receiving yards and is second on the team to tight end Travis Kelce with 64 catches and six receiving touchdowns.
“It’s more than just running fast,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “We have a lot of fast players in the National Football League, but it’s more than that. It’s his ability to track the ball, set things up when the ball is in the air, to maintain your speed. Other guys, when the ball is in the air, that inside arm drops. It cuts their speed down three quarters, and defensive backs can catch back up and roll.
“He’s able to maintain his speed through these routes, and it’s not always on the ultimate angle that we’re asking him to do it on so he’s really got to drive the chin to the shoulder, keep the arm at the square and run fast. All those things, those fundamentals, he’s very good at that.”
The 7-6 Chiefs will rely on another big game from Hill on Saturday night when they face the 7-6 Chargers at Arrowhead Stadium with first place in the AFC West at stake. Hill had a 30-yard touchdown catch to open the scoring and led the Chiefs with five receptions for 77 yards in Kansas City’s win over the Chargers in Los Angeles in September.
The Chiefs were taking a gamble in June when they released veteran Jeremy Maclin, a move which in effect also promoted Hill to their No. 1 wide receiver. Hill excelled as a rookie in 2016 but as a part-time player.
The full-time role has suited him just as well. Hill has 11 catches of 30 yards or more, including a 44-yarder in last week’s win over the Raiders. Hill had three such catches the previous week against the Jets, including one that went for a 79-yard touchdown.
“Obviously, the physical tools are there and that is apparent,” quarterback Alex Smith said. “I think there are a lot of plays out there as he just continues to grow as a receiver. The one really long one [against the Jets] was a perfect example of that. There are so many little different releases and leverages and things that he is just getting such a good feel for. Every week, you don’t know how they are going to stop you and you have to be able to combat it again in the middle of a game, and I think he does a great job with that.”
Those in-game and in-route adjustments that Hill makes have impressed the Chiefs.
“We all knew he can run down the field and catch balls,’’ Reid said. “I think the place he’s improved the most are the intermediate routes. Playing in space, I think he’s done a nice job there. Knowing how to use his body against different leverage, what he can get away with there. He’s learned the coverages. [With] the variety of coverages that you see, you have to be able to roll with all the different routes that you have. He’s gotten a tremendous amount better in that area.”
Hill, for his part, has welcomed the chance to show he’s more than just a gadget player or kick return specialist.
“It’s been wild, it’s been crazy, and it’s been fun,” he said. “For me, it’s been great, my development, just being around all these great offensive minds.”