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Player Faceoff: Tyreek Hill, Kansas City

Two staffers go head-to-head and discuss Tyreek Hill

The staff members at Footballguys are full of opinions. In a Faceoff, we allow two members to voice their opinions on a specific player. One picked the high side, and the other took the low side.

High Side: Justin Howe

The fantasy community doesn’t have a lot of confidence in Hill. I know without having yet read his section that Ryan Hester doesn’t. And I don’t really, either – but how rational am I being? His profile doesn’t match what we want when we’re targeting a top-24 wideout: he’s small (185 pounds), his offense is slow and run-oriented (only 7 teams got off fewer passes last year), and he depends on kick returns for a chunk of his value (rarely a fun situation). But his rookie production was truly great – maybe so great we shouldn’t brush it off. He was explosive, which was no surprise, but he was also mega-efficient. And his path to fantasy-WR2 volume is pretty well cemented, so we may not see the regression we’re all bracing for.

Hill isn’t merely a spark plug, and he’s not merely some speedy guy. He’s actually one of the measurably fastest and most athletic to ever play the game. His 4.24-second pro day 40-yard dash in 2016 would stand as the second-best time in combine history; he also aced his jump and agility drills while he was at it. The common belief on Hill’s rookie season was that he was a gadget player. His size, his rookie status, and his all-over-the-map usage make that the clear public view. But if we look at Matt Harmon’s opinion of Hill, as well as his Reception Perception map, we see that he was actually utilized far more as a traditional wideout than many think. Harmon charted Hill as taking 57% of his snaps out wide, with a solid 52% of his routes being deep balls/posts/digs/outs, so he’s certainly not Cordarrelle Patterson or Percy Harvin. He’s a real receiver. And as a rookie, he was exceptionally efficient, boasting a studly 73% catch rate and finding the end zone 9 times on offense alone. It’s fair to wonder whether those were bloated numbers bound to regress, but any efficiency dip should be papered over fine by a boost in consistent volume.

That’s because Hill’s only prominent competition for wideout touches left town in early June. Jeremy Maclin was shockingly cut loose, leaving Hill alone atop the depth chart – no other Kansas City receiver has ever topped 69 targets or 44 receptions in a season. Chris Conley looks like a complementary player, and Albert Wilson is an exceptionally limited slot target. The only real receiving option the team added was raw fourth-round wideout Jehu Chesson; if they weren’t satisfied with Hill’s progress, it’s unlikely they would’ve jettisoned Maclin and refused to bring in real help. In 2016, Hill averaged 8.5 targets in Maclin’s absence, averaging a per-game line of 7.0 receptions, 73.8 scrimmage yards, and 0.5 touchdowns. That’s clear fantasy-WR1/2 usage; it would take some fairly monstrous drops in efficiency to devalue that. Hill’s standing as an elite returner – he brought back three kicks for touchdowns as a rookie – only further boosts his fantasy potential.

Hill’s ADP may be climbing, but not as sharply as you might think – it’s risen from WR29 before Maclin’s release to WR22 as of early August. He may be close to being too rich for my blood. Still, I think it’s silly to dismiss him out of hand as some weird gadget-man outlier. His rookie year was just too efficient and too eruptive – and more traditionally optimistic – for me to do that.

Low Side: Ryan Hester

Hill is an explosive talent, and he made plays during the 2016 season that have many considering him among the game’s most explosive players. But fantasy football is about talent and opportunity. In some cases, opportunity is actually the more important piece of that equation.

What Hill did last season was outstanding, but the most noteworthy part of it was how few opportunities he had to do it. Between his team’s offensive identity and his style as a player, Hill’s usage isn’t likely to make an astronomic rise this season, despite the departure of veteran receiver Jeremy Maclin.

Let’s start with the Kansas City offense as a unit. From 2014 to 2016, Andy Reid’s team had the following ranks in pass attempts: 28th, 29th, and 25th. Last season, Kansas City only generated 67.9% of its total yardage through the air, 12th-fewest in the NFL. And they only scored 29% of their total points via passing touchdowns, the third-lowest rate in the NFL.

As for Hill’s opportunity, it’s not as though he was an opportunity hog on a poor unit a la Terrelle Pryor with Cleveland last season. Let’s look at Hill’s targets and receptions and where they ranked for the season:

  • 5.1 targets per game (90th in the NFL)
  • 3.7 receptions per game (fewest among the top 36 fantasy points per game wide receivers)

Part of the pro-Hill argument is to use the stats from later in the year (when he was used more) and pro-rate them across a whole season. After all, Week 8 began a stretch in which Hill saw at least five targets in seven straight games. So let’s look at the same stats for Weeks 8-16.

  • 6.6 targets per game (52nd in the NFL)
  • 4.7 receptions per game (13th-fewest among the top 36)

With such little opportunity, how did Hill rank as the WR32 in fantasy points per game? And how did he rank as the WR9 in that aforementioned Week 8-16 stretch? Hill scored a lot of touchdowns. Let’s see just how dependent on reaching the paint Hill was last season, in terms of percentage of fantasy points scored via touchdowns:

  • Season: 28.4% via touchdowns (2nd-highest among the top 36 wide receivers)
  • Weeks 8-16: 25.1% (8th-highest)

For reference, the average of those receivers in the top 36 was 16.9% of their fantasy production coming on touchdowns.

But Hill gets "extra credit" for rushing plays and special teams too, you say? If that is what sells you on Hill’s potential, maybe you'd also like to give your bank account information to a Nigerian prince I know. Hill had multiple rushing attempts in a grand total of five games last season, and three of those games netted just two attempts. He carried the ball 24 times all season. His three special teams touchdowns were remarkable, but if “three” and “remarkable” are in the same sentence about touchdowns, red flags about the repeatability of that figure should go up quickly.

There will be weeks where this low-side argument looks foolish because Hill scored 21 fantasy points on five touches. But there will be more weeks where the latter is true than the former. Hill is a fun DFS Tournament play, but he’s not reliable enough to be drafted as a WR2 in a traditional league.