KANSAS CITY, Mo. — After the Kansas City Chiefs’ Week 9 win over the Minnesota Vikings, all the buzz seemed to surround wide receiver Tyreek Hill sprinting down the field to catch up to — and pass — teammate Damien Williams on Williams’ 91-yard touchdown run.
According to NFL Next Gen Stats data, Hill hit a top speed of 22.64 mph on the play, the fastest speed by a wide receiver this year.
91 yards to the CRIB 💨 pic.twitter.com/737Ut0U03E
— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) November 3, 2019
While impressive, it was one of the least important things Hill did that day. Hill had multiple remarkable moments, including when he caught a 41-yard pass late by tracking it better than cornerback Trae Waynes and then outmuscling his defender to make the catch.
“He would have been a great center fielder,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said of Hill’s unusual ability to follow the ball down the field. “He’s got a unique combination [of skills].
“The thing that amazes me the most is he’s fast and quick, but it’s his endurance being fast and quick. Normally you don’t see that. I tell him he’s got this ‘Cheetah’ nickname but he’s really not a cheetah. They’ve got a burst and they go rest for about eight hours. That’s not this guy. He can keep going over and over again. It’s pretty amazing.”
Hill’s speed is what generates a lot of attention and it’s a major reason for his big-play ability. But his other qualities — a rare ability to track deep passes and a vertical jump that allows him to high-point throws — are just as important for the 5-foot-10 Hill to outmaneuver bigger defensive backs.
“There aren’t many guys out there like him,” Chiefs backup quarterback Matt Moore said. “I’ve played with some good ones, but he’s different. To know he can track down any ball and use his speed and his talents to get open the way he does, it’s a nice feeling knowing you’ve got him out there.”
Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu has never played against Hill in a game, only in practice this season as a teammate. But Mathieu was moved after the Vikings game to tweet about Hill’s collection of skills.
I played with some damn good ball players, @cheetah is top 5
— Tyrann Mathieu (@Mathieu_Era) November 4, 2019
“Most players are competitive, but he has competitive greatness,” Mathieu said recently in explanation. “What I mean by that is in tough situations, critical moments, only a few people can make certain plays. He’s one of those players.
“The only way you can cover him is to have that competitive greatness yourself. You have to know the ball is coming to him and in your mind you believe you can make the play. You just have to match his energy, his attitude and that’s hard to do. He’s on another level most of the time.”
This is high praise from Mathieu, who at various points in his career has been a teammate of Odell Beckham Jr., Larry Fitzgerald and DeAndre Hopkins.
“Those guys can catch most balls, but I’ve never seen anybody do it like [Hill] being that size,” Mathieu said.
Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was with the New York Giants in 2017 when he coached against Hill. He recalled it being a dilemma preparing a plan for Hill and not just because he’s fast.
“I don’t know if I’ve seen anybody attacking the football better than he does and he forces a defense to become simpler,” Spagnuolo said. “Part of that is, a) because of his abilities and, b) because of what Andy and [offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy] do with him, how much they move him around. He’s always in motion. That creates some headaches. Teams that might want to play man coverage might want to think twice about that.”
Hill is one of five players in NFL history with 20 or more 40-yard touchdowns at age 25 or younger, alongside Hall of Famers Bob Hayes, Randy Moss, Gale Sayers and Lance Alworth. Despite missing four games early in the season because of an injury, Hill has eight catches of at least 20 yards this season, including five in the past two games. And again, it’s not all about speed. In his first game back from the injury, Hill made a leaping 46-yard catch on which NFL NextGen stats measured him with a 40.5-inch vertical.
— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) October 13, 2019
Hill shrugged at the mention of most of these plays, though he did make fun of the notion it appeared at first that Moore threw the ball too far on his touchdown catch against Minnesota.
“Can’t nobody overthrow me,” Hill said.
Patrick Mahomes did overthrow him during the Chief’s Week 10 loss to the Tennessee Titans — a game in which Hill had 157 receiving yards on a career-best 11 catches — but it’s an unusual event. Hill played well during his time with Moore at quarterback, but having a player with Mahomes’ abilities makes Hill even more effective.
“Just do the math,” Spagnuolo said. “You’d like to spy somebody on the quarterback and you’d like to double [Hill]. So you start adding it up and who’s left to cover all the other receivers?
“That’s why I say defenses need to become simpler because of him.”