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Hartitz: Tyreek Hill is the key that unlocks the best version of the Kansas City Chiefs offense

Dec 27, 2020; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill (10) runs the ball during the game against the Atlanta Falcons at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Chiefs have been the NFL’s premier offense over the past three seasons thanks in large part to Patrick Mahomes’ status as a borderline wizard with the football. However, this is a team sport after all, and Kansas City has been blessed with talented players to go along with their generational QB to help make the most of the A+ scheme provided by head coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy.

There perhaps isn’t another player more important to the Chiefs’ offensive success than WR Tyreek Hill aside from Mahomes. It’s tough to think of a bigger bargain across the league outside of rookie-contract signal-callers, as Hill’s past troubles with the law resulted in him 1) falling to the fifth round of the 2016 draft, and 2) signing a modest (for him) three-year contract worth $54 million back in October, 2019.

Regardless of how the Chiefs obtained Hill’s services, he’s emerged as anyone’s idea of one of the best and most-productive playmakers in the league. Since entering the NFL, Hill ranks as a top-10 WR in PFF receiving grade (92.3, No. 6), receiving yards (5,391, No. 7), receiving TDs (47, No. 2) and yards per route run (2.35, No. 5) among 156 players at the position with at least 100 targets.

Of course, Hill has impacted the game in more ways than by just catching the ball. He returned four punts as well as one kick to the house during his first three years in the league and to this day provides plenty of juice as a rusher. Overall, nobody has averaged more yards per carry than Hill (7.4) among 225 players with at least 50 rush attempts since 2016.

Hill unsurprisingly owns the Next-Gen Stats’ record for fastest speed reached by a ball carrier at 23.24 miles per hour. Yes, Mahomes has the sort of arm talent to make any throw on the field. Also yes, Hill usually makes things fairly easy for his QB — nobody has been considered open or wide open more than Hill (31) on targets thrown 20-plus yards downfield over the past three seasons (including playoffs). No other receiver has even 25 such targets.

This sort of elite field-stretching threat has made dealing with Travis Kelce in the underneath and intermediate areas of the field borderline impossible. It’s not like he’s making a living on feasting against linebackers and safeties; even true No. 1 corners have had problems containing the Chiefs’ stud tight end. Overall, only Michael Thomas (124), Stefon Diggs (120) and Davante Adams (120) have more receptions than Kelce (113) when facing 2-man, cover-0 or cover-1 coverage — instances that feature mostly single man-to-man coverage.

Tasking a single defender with covering Kelce is obviously a bad idea, but what other choice do defenses have? The reality is that trying to guard Hill with a single mortal human being is trouble. It took him just 15 minutes to post a 7-203-2 line against the Buccaneers back in Week 12 thanks in large part to the defense’s inability to send Carlton Davis safety help in a timely manner. All in all, Hill shredded Davis to the tune of an 8-204-3 performance in his direct shadow coverage; the Buccaneers’ No. 1 CB otherwise largely shut down the likes of Michael Thomas (2-9-0, 3-33-0, 0-0-0), Allen Robinson (8-62-0), Davante Adams (3-33-0, 4-31-1) and D.J. Moore (2-55-0) throughout the season.

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