Each season, the Fantasy Footballers writing staff highlights the path to a WR1 season for guys ranked outside the top 15 in the consensus rankings for Andy, Mike, and Jason. My fellow writers have been off to a great start with our ‘Path to a WR1’ article series. Thus far, we’ve learned about the path for Michael Crabtree, Corey Davis, Josh Gordon, and Golden Tate. The next wideout to make his appearance in this article series is the Ballers’ consensus ranked WR21. His name: Tyreek Hill a.k.a. the Cheetah.
Tyreek Hill, one of the most polarizing players from two years ago, has proven he’s the real deal in this league after WR25 and WR9 finishes over the past two seasons in PPR formats. However, the real question with Tyreek Hill when examining the possibility of a WR1 season is how he will adjust to all the changes in Kansas City. He’s got a new teammate in Sammy Watkins, a new quarterback in Patrick Mahomes, and a new offensive coordinator in Eric Bieniemy.
Let’s recap Hill’s 2017 season, project what a WR1 season would look like this year, and give the percentage likelihood of a WR1 campaign in 2018.
Want all the Reception Perception info on Tyreek Hill? Buy the Ultimate Draft Kit to get data on all the rest of the top 50 WRs.
2017 Season Recap
The narrative surrounding Tyreek Hill entering 2017 was one of question, concern, and uncertainty after an explosion onto the scene in 2016. What would his usage be like? Is he more than just a return man? Can he do more than just run deep routes? Will his size prevent him from being a WR1 for an NFL team?
He’ll be used A LOT. Yes, he’s more than a kick returner. He runs an expansive route tree. And no, size is not an issue for a guy with the speed of a cheetah. Hill put all of the doubters to bed after a top-10 fantasy finish in 2017. Andy Reid was vocal heading into 2017 stating that Hill would be used as a feature piece in Kansas City’s offense. He wasn’t lying. In 2016, Hill’s target share was just 15.47%. In 2017, his target share increased to 20.42%, second only to Travis Kelce. He made great use of these targets from then-quarterback Alex Smith, putting up career highs in receptions, yards, and touchdowns. How likely is it that he matches these numbers in 2018? Keep reading to find out.
The Path for 2018
In order for Hill to remain a WR1 this year, there are a number of statistical benchmarks he must meet in order to be an elite fantasy option in 2018.
Target Share – In Tyreek Hill’s first two years in the NFL, Travis Kelce led the team in target share as Alex Smith’s favorite weapon in the K.C. offense. Hill saw 108 targets in 2017 after having just 84 balls thrown his way in 2016. With the addition of Sammy Watkins in free agency, will Hill’s target share decrease in 2018? To answer this question, we need to look at how multiple wide receivers are targeted in an Andy Reid-led offense.
The table above highlights the Chiefs’ offensive target share breakdown dating back to 2014. Historically in Kansas City, Andy Reid’s offense has only supported one wide receiver above a 20% market share. Given that Travis Kelce has been the team’s number one receiving option for the past two seasons, it seems unlikely that Hill surpasses Kelce in targets in 2018. With Sammy Watkins lining up across from Hill, it is possible that Hill’s target share from 2017 drops below the 20% threshold. In order to be a WR1 in 2018, Pat Mahomes will need to look Hill’s way as much as Alex Smith did in 2017.
Catch Rate – During his rookie season in 2016, it appeared as though Hill would be a low volume, deep ball type of receiver. If this were the case, the Cheetah would likely need to produce a catch rate on a low target count in order to find fantasy relevance. However, his bump in targets to 105 in 2017 should provide fantasy owners optimism that his catch rate doesn’t need to be through the roof. In his two seasons in the NFL, his career catch rate is 72.3%, which is pretty solid. The quality of targets from Alex Smith last year was excellent for Hill, who had the advantage of one of the most accurate deep ball passers in 2017 throwing him the ball. The question mark for Hill (and other pass catchers in K.C.) is how efficient he can be with a new quarterback with just one career start.
Receptions – After a career year in 2017, it’s possible that we’ve seen Tyreek Hill’s ceiling in this offense. Others who are high on Mahomes may argue otherwise. Personally, I think Alex Smith’s 2017 season is the outlier in the Chiefs’ recent history. He’s typically been a guy who puts up middle of the road numbers, and as a result, so have his wide receivers. In steps Pat Mahomes with a rocket arm and the confidence to push the offense downfield. It’s yet to be determined how good Mahomes truly is, but even if he puts up 85% of Smith’s 2017 output, Hill should push for 65-75 receptions in 2018.
Yards – According to Matt Harmon’s Reception Perception, which you can find in the Ultimate Draft Kit, “Hill checked in with a 73.9 percent success rate vs. man coverage score in his second season while operating as a full-time top receiver for the Chiefs.” I highlight this quote from Mr. Harmon because of the fact that the Chiefs’ offense is not short of talent at any position. They’re a loaded offense with a very strong run game, an elite tight end, and two talented wide receivers. I expect Hill to see a fair amount of man-to-man coverage in 2018 because of the fact that opposing defenses will be unable to lock in on Hill. If he sees man-to-man where he’s been successful in the past, he could post his second 1,000 yard season of his career.
aDOT & Air Yards – Most people think of Tyreek Hill as just a deep threat because of his blazing speed, but this is misleading. In fact, opposing defenses don’t press him much, and if they do, they pay. Harmon suggests, “Thanks to his deep speed, teams typically play off Hill at the line of scrimmage and he saw press coverage on just 19.4 percent of his sampled routes.” If teams play off of Hill again in 2018, his 11.7 aDOT indicates he could be in for more success as he will have more space to work those intermediate routes. Hill’s 1227 air yards last season were surprisingly low for a player who can get down the field as quickly as anyone in the league. In fact, he had fewer air yards than Larry Fitzgerald and Demaryius Thomas. Mahomes and Hill could find success if the tandem continues to connect on intermediate routes, allowing Hill to use his speed, explosiveness, and agility to create yards after the catch.
TDs – Since Andy Reid took over for the Chiefs in 2014, the offense has averaged 2.5, 2.8, 2.6, and 2.6 touchdowns per game from 2014-2017. Because we don’t have data on Mahomes as an NFL starter, we need to rely on the history of what the Chiefs offense has done in recent memory. In a breakout year last year, Hill recorded seven TDs, second most behind Travis Kelce. With Watkins expected to take steal a few TDs and a first-time starter, Hill’s chances of hitting 7+ TDs again in 2018 is reduced. Given the expectation that his total receiving yards may dip a bit, he’ll need to meet this threshold in order to have a chance at a top-12 finish in 2018. I’m not sure it happens.
WR1 Possibility: Low to Moderate Chance (Below 25%)
This percentage is based upon the combined average of the Fantasy Footballers writing staff. He’s got a chance to do it again, but I wouldn’t put money on it. For perspective, guys like Antonio Brown or Odell Beckham Jr. are virtual locks to finish as a WR1 while a guy like Nelson Agholor probably has about a 5% chance.
We’ve seen him do it once so it’s certainly in the realm of possibility; but as I’ve stated previously, there’s a lot changing in Kansas City. Tyreek Hill’s chance of producing a WR1 season in 2018 will rely primarily on the right arm of Patrick Mahomes and the degree to which he relies on Sammy Watkins. The Chiefs’ offense under Andy Reid typically only supports two highly relevant pass catchers, and if Mahomes continues to utilize Hill as one of those guys, he’s got a chance to remain a top-12 option at the wide receiver position this year.