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ESPN (and the league) misses the mark on Tyreek Hill

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NFL: Miami Dolphins at San Francisco 49ers Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Tyreek Hill is something else.

The uber-talented wideout came to the Miami Dolphins in March 2022 with sky-high expectations. And somehow, individually, he eclipsed them. 119 catches for 1710 yards and 7 touchdowns was one whale of a start to his career in south Florida.

If not for the injuries to Tua Tagovailoa and the stark drop off in quarterback play during his absence, Hill might have reached in 2022 what he’s set for himself as a goal in 2023: 2000 receiving yards.

But where did Hill’s lofty 2022 accomplishments place him in the eyes of those around the league? Let’s just say not at the top.

ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler has surveyed dozens of NFL executives, scouts, coaches, and players and come up with a list of the top 10 players at each position. Today, the wide receiver list was released, and Hill came in fourth.

No way around it. Hill dominated in his first season in Miami, showing he’s far from dependent on quarterback Patrick Mahomes to remain elite.

His metrics are eye-opening: He led the NFL in yards gained per route (3.3) despite a 33% target share, also leading the league. He got open on 45.3% of his routes on an impressive 12.2 air yards per target. His 1,710 receiving yards was the most for a receiver in a first year with a franchise.

“Cornerbacks are still so scared that he’ll run by them that they give him a huge cushion, and he can win underneath,” a veteran NFL scout said. “Having a different quarterback didn’t take the luster off for him.”

Some still see Hill as a bit scheme-dependent despite his having come a long way as a route runner.

“He won’t give you comeback routes, dig routes consistently — still a bit of a vertical gadget guy,” an NFC exec said. “What he does takes less precision than Jefferson or [Stefon] Diggs or Adams because he has so much room to work with.” - Jeremy Fowler,

Calling Hill a “vertical gadget guy” is something you might expect an uneducated writer or observer make the mistake of saying. Not an actual NFL executive. Because if you dig at all into what Hill has done, that’s easily debunked. It’s pretty much debunked by the stats in the first part of the quote itself. It’s a lazy and incorrect take.

There have been tons of guys deployed in the NFL over decades that have had world-class speed. Teams are always looking for an edge and have tried that angle many times. And so, so many of those guys have failed. It takes a heck of a lot more than vertical speed to be able to flirt with the league lead in catches and yards, and if Tua had played another 2 or 3 games, Hill would have been your league leader in both.

As the article noted, Hill was indeed the 2022 league leader in yards/route, which Pro Football Focus has at 3.2. As PFF explains, yards/route is a better indicator of down-to-down efficiency and productivity, not just how productive they were when they actually made the catch. Hill finished way ahead of Justin Jefferson (2.62), Jaylen Waddle and A.J. Brown (2.59) and Stefon Diggs (2.49). That’s not something a simple vertical “gadget” guy is going to be able to pull off.

Hopefully a healthy Tua and a motivated Hill will feed a large helping of crow to those who’ve doubted both of them this offseason.