Yes, Hill is a real receiver. Hill wasn’t merely a screen/slant option as a rookie, nor a one-dimensional deep threat, nor was he limited to reverses and wide sweeps that put him into space a few times a game. Rather, he was used extensively on a more typical, pro-style route tree than virtually anyone had expected (more on that in a bit). And his success rates against coverage were generally strong, suggesting he’s up to the NFL task.
He’s not merely quick or explosive – he’s blindingly fast. A 185-pound special-teams hybrid is supposed to test fairly well athletically, but many fall flat in Indianapolis and wind up exposed as relatively average movers. Hill’s 2016 pro day, however, featured an eye-popping 4.24 40-yard dash, a mark that only 2017’s John Ross (4.22) has topped in the history of the combine. (It didn’t hurt, of course, that he also dazzled in his jumps and three-cone drill.) A 40-yard dash doesn’t tie a bow on a prospect, of course, and this was a pro day, which is looser and more prospect-centric than the combine. But it’s worth keeping hold of the fact that there’s Dexter McCluster fast, and then there’s historically fast.
Kansas City added little to nothing (and lost a ton) by way of competition for touches. Jeremy Maclin is out of town, and none of the current non-Hill wideouts have any sort of track record for strong volume. As of late May, the team has added only one semi-notable name – fourth-round pick Jehu Chesson – to the receiver depth chart. And Chesson is a relatively limited prospect, a big possession type who poses more of a threat to the likes of Chris Conley than to Hill. Neither Chesson nor anyone else on roster boasts the skillset and pedigree Hill does, so there is indeed a workable floor for his usage.
His general profile doesn’t inspire much confidence. Hill is quite small, measuring at least year’s pro day at a pint-sized 5’8” and 185 pounds. We can’t box every similarly-typed prospect into one space, but it’s worth noting that, dating back 17 years, only 12 receivers under 5’10” have produced a season of 175+ PPR points. Hill is one of them, of course, and looks to be woven fairly well into the Kansas City gameplan. But history, for whatever it’s worth, isn’t exactly on his side.
His volume outlook isn’t set in stone. Maclin is gone, which is great for Hill's prospects. But even if his target share ascends notably, his upside is capped by a slow-paced Kansas City offense. Only five teams snapped fewer plays last year, and only seven threw more passes. Hill can make up for some of that production with rushing and returning, but without a backbone of receiving volume, we can’t project WR1-level usage with any confidence whatsoever.
The hype train is moving. This is a bit nit-picky, and obviously, we’re not going to fault a guy for being fast, athletic, and exciting. But Hill does carry a profile that’s notoriously hyped and fawned over throughout camp and preseason. We’re likely to hear a full summer’s worth of breathless camp reports of Hill’s explosiveness, then watch a handful of dynamic splash plays in the preseason, all of which would fuel a news/analysis cycle destined to drive his ADP even higher. We shouldn’t just discount any camp and preseason awesomeness we see, but we need to keep it all in perspective and adjust his expectations accordingly. Hill could conceivably wind up with a firm WR2 ADP, at which point I’d call him hands-off, regardless of preseason fireworks.
As a Prospect/Player
Hill fits a relatively traditional, if superficial, profile that we’ve collectively built over the years. He’s small, and he entered the NFL more or less without a position after dabbling at running back and wide receiver at West Alabama. (He was there, of course, after serious domestic assault issues while at Oklahoma State.) And he returned punts (fantastically), to further cement himself into the gadget/spark plug profile. That’s valid to a degree – though our Adam Harstad would prefer to point out that it was Hill’s draft slot (late Round 5), not his dimensions, that really made him a mixed bag to scout. In any event, on the surface, Hill was a quick, explosive athlete only “needed” for a handful of versatile snaps a game, interspersed with some choice punt returning. But that didn’t tell the story of Hill the prospect – and a year into his career, it doesn’t sum up Hill the professional, either.
Yes, Hill looks just like Percy Harvin, and he’s utilized volume-wise much like Tavon Austin is in Los Angeles. He’s given manufactured touches, and he’s asked to create splash plays in open space. But it’s shortsighted and foolhardy to merely compare similar profiles superficially and parade the perception as fact. But the real fact is that Hill is not Harvin, Austin, McCluster, or Cordarrelle Patterson, carrying his own unique strengths and weaknesses to unique degrees, and working within the structure of his own unique team. All told, lumping them into one ball of “gadget player” clay doesn’t forecast anything. Hill has to be examined on his own rookie merits.
And when we do that, Hill is somewhat vindicated from the backhanded compliment of “He’s just like Tavon Austin.” He was viewed and utilized by Reid and his staff as much closer to a full-time receiver than most of those comparable prospects. According to Matt Harmon’s Reception Perception data, Hill was sent on a nine/post/corner route on 37.8% of his rookie routes, and ran a dig/out on 14.4%. Those routes are signs of an all-around receiver, not a mere manufactured-touch type. Hill’s rates generally lap those of Austin, Patterson, and Harvin, all underneath specialists and gadget men. But as a point of reference, his rookie rates also best those of, say, “true receiver” Sammy Watkins’ tremendous 2015 season (32.3% and 8.0%) in Buffalo. Hill’s and Watkins’ target totals were similar, and while Watkins was a more ingrained part of his offense, we still get a comparable downfield usage picture of the two. Both were electric young receivers, capable of winning vertically as well as horizontally, so both saw attention on all levels of the field. If we’re going to call Watkins a “traditional” receiver – and we are, by any measure – we need to slap a similar label on Hill. He looks and moves like Percy Harvin, but he’s not Percy Harvin. With Hill working down the field so often (and so successfully, according to Harmon’s study), we invoke some of the downfield and speed-based dynamism that DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin brought to Reid’s offenses in Philadelphia.
Hill wasn’t a low-volume receiver or some gadget specialist as a rookie – he did draw an impressive 83 targets, including 6 or more in 7 of the team’s last 11 games. But a target dominator he was not, nor is he likely to be one anytime soon. Only 3 times all year did Hill see more than 36 offensive snaps in a game, after all. Much of his deep midseason integration into the passing game came as No. 1 wideout Jeremy Maclin battled a groin injury and missed four games. With Maclin gone, Hill's volume should increase for sure, but likely not into the stratosphere. Hill remains an undersized, inexperienced wideout. Even as a stronger downfield option than many give him credit for, Hill isn’t in position to fight off the low-totem guys (Chris Conley, Albert Wilson, etc.) and usurp volume monster Travis Kelce in the pecking order.
Further damning is that all of this competition is contained within a slow-paced offense that tilts solidly toward the run. We’ve seen some dynamic receiving seasons from Reid’s Philadelphia and Kansas City offenses, but not especially many – and not often do more than one produce well in the same year. Over Reid’s 18 seasons as head coach, only 5 have seen multiple receivers produce 12.0 PPR points per game or more simultaneously. Simply put: if Kelce is going to produce big numbers - and he is - then Hill faces an uphill battle to join him.
That said, one thing common to Reid’s Philadelphia and Kansas City offenses is the presence of a versatile and blindingly fast spark plug. Hill hit that 12-point marker last year, and DeSean Jackson hit it in three consecutive years early in the decade, on the strength of mega-explosiveness and peripheral production (rushing and returning). It’s a fairly precarious profile to court in fantasy, of course: these are small and semi-limited receivers, and we all know how fickle kick returning can be. Still, it’s fully relevant as we approach Hill’s fit into the offense and its ceiling/floor outlook. We know not only that Hill is fully capable of a fantasy WR2 season, but also that Reid’s offenses can be (and often have been) plied to boost those roles and make them fantasy-dynamic. Reid himself floated the idea of Hill “doubling” his 26.1 offensive snaps in Year 2 – that’s a lofty goal to project, but it’s an encouraging quote nonetheless.
All told, Hill’s volume will be tricky to project prior to the season. He doesn’t have the locked-in go-to role that Kelce enjoys and Maclin once did as well, and I can assure you that projecting rushes for a receiver is a fool’s game. We can safely expect a range of 90-100 touches and 30-40 returns, but that’s a wide spectrum that doesn’t pin down an optimal draft slot. From a volume standpoint alone, we can’t project more than a fantasy WR2’s role. We know that Hill carries that good-not-great volume to a ceiling high in the WR2 bubble, but not really beyond that – he’s a longshot to suddenly dominate targets on an elite level – and his floor is markedly lower than some of his ADP peers. Names like Emmanuel Sanders, Larry Fitzgerald, and Willie Snead are all typically available right alongside Hill in Rounds 5 and 6, and all boast very sturdy volume outlooks. Most likely, Hill would have to equal his outstanding rookie touchdown rates and continue to produce solidly in all three facets to topple guys like that. If he can’t simultaneously check all those boxes again, it’s hard to see him returning on a high WR2 investment. There’s a receiving floor of around 50 catches in play, after all.
Best Ball Bliss
Here’s where Hill provides his most value (outside of return-yardage leagues, where he’s a borderline WR1). Best ball leagues, of course, only utilize a player’s score when he posts a strong week, so his week-to-week uncertainty and downside are greatly mitigated. That’s a format tailor-made for the likes of Hill:
Hill’s year was uneven, but he provided WR3 numbers or better in 9 of his final 10 games. Now, 2017 will be a different animal – he won’t be the 75th wideout drafted in fantasy leagues, of course, and will need to boost his WR1/2 finishes to truly pay off. But in MFL10s and other best ball leagues, Hill owners will profit mightily from the weeks he’s heavily involved and racking up volume, or schemed in for 5-7 carries from the backfield, or brings a kick back to the house. And provided they didn’t overdraft him, they’re not punished when those boxes don’t get checked. At the moment (late June), Hill’s MFL10 ADP (49.2, WR25) is solid, but I think it’ll boost a bit. Best ball drafters able to snag Hill in the WR20-25 range, ideally in Round 5 or so, are setting themselves up for big upside and generally acceptable risk.
Hill’s rookie year was a strong case study in preconceived notions. He proved to be more than a shifty gadgetman, enjoying success as a downfield receiver while still chiming in with the Percy Harvin skills we’d all expected. But such a diverse portfolio can be problematic. Can we rely upon explosive three-facet production, which he desperately needs to maintain value? If Kansas City veers offensively during the season, how confident are we that Hill’s talents will remain central? It appears Hill is ingrained solidly in the Kansas City offense, and that he’s up to the task athletically, so there’s less bust potential than we usually see from this profile.
Even more so than with other prospects, Hill’s ADP will tell the tale of his 2017 fantasy value. He’d be miscast as a go-to wideout, which caps his upside markedly. A WR1 finish would require some extraordinary turns of events that somehow grant him 120+ targets and another high touchdown rate. But he’s as dynamic as they come with a mixed usage bag, so fantasy drafters can definitely extract value if he comes in the middle rounds. Assuming his ADP settles in the WR20-25 range, Hill has shown he’s probably worth the plunge – but we don’t want to draft him expecting much more.
In April, a few fantasy heavyweights discussed Hill in a lengthy Twitter debate. It was informative and introduced a number of strong talking points, and both the “pro” and “con” camps did a great job of weighing out Hill as a fantasy prospect:
“His TD/touch rate is [obviously] unsustainable but he's going to be on the field more & getting the ball more this year. Like him 5th/6th round.” – Evan Silva
“He's definitely a better vertical WR than a guy he's comped to like [Cordarrelle Patterson], but we're still talking a 2-3 option on KC w top-30 ADP. Hard pass” – Rich Hribar
“We always want/expect the role of gadget players to grow. It often doesn't. Secondary players in an Alex Smith pass game are a pass for me.” – Adam Levitan
“Hill may play a "gadget role" but the thing is...with Smith at the helm...it's a #GadgetOffense, so maybe not as bad as it would normally be” – Pete Davidson
In recapping our recent staff MFL10 draft, Phil Alexander stated a liking for Hill, but wasn’t on board with him coming off the board as the WR22 (pick 4.10):
“The fact [Hill] averaged only 5.3 total touches per game last season puts him at great risk of disappearing from the box score completely in any given week… While I understand the pick, if the play is for a boom/bust wide receiver, I can’t see taking Hill over [Terrelle] Pryor or Martavis Bryant, both of whom have a legitimate shot at becoming weekly WR1s.”
RotoViz’s Charles Kleinheksel agrees that, with offensive uncertainty in play and a strict cap on his scoring potential, Hill’s ADP is the key to dissecting his true value:
“It’s possible the Chiefs lose Albert Wilson in free agency, and their cap situation at present precludes them bringing in significant competition. It’s also possible [Hill] turns out like Cordarelle Patterson, a dynamic returner who’s limited as a receiver. If very early and limited ADP data is any guide though, I think Hill is fairly priced. As the 33rd WR in start-ups, both Hill’s upside and uncertainty seem fairly accounted for.”