It’s still unclear on whether Tyreek Hill will be suspended or even worse during the 2019 NFL season. Hill is currently under investigation for the alleged battery of a minor. For the time being, he is not involved in the Chiefs offense and as each week passes, the Chiefs need to start planning for a situation where Hill is not able to contribute to the team in the upcoming season.
Who in the Kansas City Chiefs Offense Will Be Most Affected by the Absence of Tyreek Hill
It’s fair to say the explosiveness that the Chiefs possess on offense is definitely down to Mahomes and his electric play. However, the tandem to Mahomes’ powerful arm is having a speedster in Hill that can consistently make plays down the field when Mahomes lets it rip. So how will Mahomes’ numbers change with Hill not on the field? The Chiefs have been lucky enough to have Hill play in every game since Mahomes became the starter. As such, we don’t have a sample of how the team changed with Hill out, so instead let’s delve deeper into the numbers this season.
45 percent of all downfield throws made by Mahomes, if we consider downfield as 20+ yards, were targeted at Hill, and he completed 45 percent of these targets. It’s interesting to note that on the 55 percent of downfield throws targeted at all other receivers, Mahomes completed 47 percent of them. Meaning there wasn’t a drop off when throwing away from Tyreek Hill deep down the field.
It appears the largest drop-off in completion percentage comes from targets between 10 and 20 yards, where throws targeted at Hill completed at a rate of 68 percent compared to a mere 60 percent when targeting elsewhere. So who is able to step up to the plate in this role for Kansas City?
You have to go back to 2017 and 2015 to get a good enough sample size to judge Watkins’ catch rate at different areas of the field. In 2015, where he was a true WR1, he caught 47 percent of downfield passes which puts him right at Hill’s rate last season. On balls between 10 and 20 yards, he caught 76 percent of balls thrown his way, so even above Hill’s rate last season. Whereas in 2017 with the Los Angeles Rams, he caught 71 percent on 10-20 yard targets, another encouraging stat. However, he only caught 17 percent of downfield passes which will be a worry.
Regardless, this shows that the last time Watkins was healthy and a true WR1, he was able to achieve what would be needed of him from the offense. The worries come from his history of injuries and the fact that despite being on two of the most productive offenses in the past two seasons, he has failed to eclipse 600 yards on either of them. However, he was a red zone threat in LA, finding the end zone fairly well for the Rams.
Hardman was this year’s highest draft pick for the Chiefs, a second-round pick out of Georgia. Hardman ran a 4.33 40 yard dash, certainly turning heads as a possible speedy stand-in for Hill. He has the quickness off the line to give cornerbacks issues and once he gets going it is tough to stay with him. He needs to answer questions on his ability to catch the tough balls in traffic. This may well be his biggest hurdle when trying to fill the role across the middle.
With Hardman playing primarily slot at Georgia, it’s fair to imagine many sets with Watkins out wide and Hardman in the slot. This would certainly be a stretch on the slot-corner if the defense wants to play man coverage. If used the correct way, the tandem of Watkins & Hardman can eat up a lot of Hill’s missing workload.
Robinson spent 332 snaps playing out wide compared to 88 in the slot. As such, Robinson will likely be the next guy up opposite Watkins out wide. On paper, he doesn’t seem as much of a candidate to fill Hill’s role but where he can add more value is to step into the role that will be left when Watkins steps in as WR2. Head coach Andy Reid has recently commented on Robinson’s connection with Mahomes, likely formed during Mahomes’ rookie season where they both served as backups and as such likely shared the same field in practice.
Hill split his time between out wide and in the slot, spending 55 percent of his wide receiver snaps out wide. Rather than to try and expect Watkins or Hardman to simply step into Hill’s shoes. The smartest way would be to share the load where Hardman takes the slot burden while Watkins needs to step up on outside snaps. Mahomes’ yards will likely regress from his incredible MVP campaign. Expect him to throw closer to 4,500 yards than 5,000 if the Chiefs are missing Hill. Although if the Chiefs use Hardman and Watkins in the right way, the Chiefs’ can still have an explosive offense even without Tyreek Hill.