It doesn’t take long to understand why Tyreek Hill’s nickname is “Cheetah.” In today’s NFL his speed is so unrivaled that comparisons to him have gone beyond the game of football and into the realm of Olympic sprinting.
While it is difficult to contextualize his transcendent speed, the only way to do so in my opinion is through ESPN’s Next Gen Stats. In 2016 he touched 23.24 MPH on a kick return, which remains the fastest ball carrier speed tracked since. For the record, the second fastest speed is held by none other than Tyreek Hill.
Hill constantly wreaks havoc on opposing defenses and is a threat to score anytime he gets the ball in his hands. A whopping two-thirds of his career touchdown receptions (21 of 32) have gone for at least twenty yards. As a defensive coordinator you need to know exactly where Hill is lined up at all times. Instead of trying to stop Hill, teams in the AFC West are now attempting to emulate him. (See: Henry Ruggs, Raiders; KJ Hamler, Broncos). He’s arguably the most dangerous player in a loaded Kansas City Chiefs offense and quite possibly the entire NFL.
It’s clear why Hill is known for his speed and home-run hitting ability, but to stop there would be selling him short. In some back-and-forth chatter prior to their 2018 matchup, All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey notoriously labeled Hill as a “return specialist.” Hill’s reputation around the league may be consistent with Ramsey’s assertion, but his film emphasizes that he shouldn’t be defined by only speed. Hill should be more widely considered as an elite receiver, and in this article I will highlight some of the things that make Tyreek Hill one of the most unstoppable playmakers in the game.
Tale of the Tape:
Weight: 185 lbs
Wide receivers with frames similar to Hill aren’t typically known for their ability to come down with contested catches or 50-50 balls. Oddly enough, Hill is actually very good at high pointing and winning many of those battles. In fact, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF), he led the league in contested catch rate among receivers in 2018.
This is a ridiculous stat for someone of his size.
It certainly doesn’t hurt that he posted a 40’5″ vertical at West Alabama’s Pro Day. He can jump through the roof and it certainly shows up on tape.
As shown in the video, he’s very talented at tracking the ball in the air and has great timing. Not only do defense backs have a difficult time staying in stride with Hill, but even getting a hand on the ball is a challenge for them and they are usually forced to play through his body. Hill uses this to his advantage and is frequently the first one at the catch point. His explosiveness allows him to out-jump defenders and he’s strong enough to bring the ball down with him. It’s surprising how regularly he flies through the air on tape even when he doesn’t haul it in.
My favorite part of his game is his release package at the line of scrimmage. Like many parts of his game, his releases have improved drastically each year. Below is a clip from the Steelers game from 2018. This is one of his signature releases. He pounces off the ball like a cat (too easy), but stays square to almost bait the corner into declaring where he’s going. Once the corner tips his hand, Hill plants and drives the other direction through his route. Notice how he smacks away the hands to avoid his route being disrupted. Details.
Now in full speed:
The play displayed below shows a very similar release except this time he breaks inside. This clip shows the same thing as before. He jumps to freeze the corner and breaks as soon as the CB reaches and opens his hips. Hill wants the corner to react just so he can avoid it like he’s playing a game of tag. Again, he’s swiping away weak hands to avoid being slowed down. Overall he has very good technique with no wasted movement.
Below is a cut-up of other releases that were impressive as well:
The development in his route running is primarily what has elevated his game into the elite category. In Hill’s rookie season he ran about three routes exclusively. Today he runs an entire route tree and runs it extremely well. He’s so clean in and out of breaks and has learned to really use the threat of his speed to manipulate defenders.
Two of the clips shown here are from the Minnesota game this past year, and are some of the best routes he has put on film.
The first one is a stutter and go route which he executes very well. In fact, he clears the cornerback by about 5 yards. He’s an expert salesman here. He violently plants, turns head, and pumps his arms to sell the hitch route that makes the cornerback bite hard. What I like about this is that he doesn’t stop chopping his feet or moving his arms in order for him to re-plant, keep momentum, and accelerate through the hitch. He takes outside leverage to avoid any contact and doesn’t start looking back for the ball until he knows he has his man beat. This is very high level detail that wasn’t necessarily present in his early career.
For reference, this is a clip from his rookie year against the Panthers (bottom of screen) where he runs an identical route, but from the opposite side. Compared to the previous route, he doesn’t sell the hitch nearly as much. He is somewhat impatient to get out of his break and a bit upright when he stutter steps. This time the cornerback isn’t fooled and stays in his hip pocket. It’s minor details like this that you can tell he’s been mastering over the course of his career.
This next route Trae Waynes lines up in press coverage across from him. Hill stems inside off of his release and Waynes actually does a nice job of staying with him. Three steps off of the line Hill flashes his eyes towards the quarterback and forces Waynes to react and take an angle to the ball. However, his eyes are telling lies here and he explodes off that plant foot and stacks Waynes to beat him to the cornerback (clears hands again) and score on this beautiful route and catch.
Here is the full play:
Anyone can get it, too. Here he runs the same route and beats Chris Harris Jr., one of the best cornerbacks in the league.
He also recognizes zone coverages and understands where to sit on his routes. He gets in and out of breaks so quickly without any extra steps and gives his quarterback a good target to show he’s open. This is a very underrated skill to have.
These are a few more of the routes that stood out on tape:
Tyreek Hill can really do anything he’s asked of at the receiver position. He’s not a one trick-pony by any means. Rather, Hill is a well-rounded wideout with refined route-running skills which he pairs well with his natural abilities. He was still a raw athlete when he came into the NFL, but he has worked at his craft and it is evident on the field. He should be mentioned alongside Julio Jones, Michael Thomas, and Deandre Hopkins as some of the best at their position.