Speed is the 'easy answer' when describing Kansas City Chiefs' Tyreek Hill

Despite the Chiefs' recent offensive struggles, Tyreek Hill is again a Top (0:25)

Despite the Chiefs' recent offensive struggles, Tyreek Hill is again a Top 5 receiver. Video by Adam Teicher (0:25)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Between his many long touchdowns, his talk of races against Usain Bolt and trying to make the U.S. Olympic team as a sprinter, it's easy to know Tyreek Hill only for his world-class speed.

Hill is fast. He ran a 4.24-second 40-yard dash as he was preparing to enter the 2016 NFL draft, and in his seventh season with the Kansas City Chiefs, he doesn't look like he has slowed much, if at all.

But knowing Hill only for his speed ahead of the Chiefs' Sunday night matchup with the Las Vegas Raiders (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC) is getting only part of the story.

"It's easy to say his speed," Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said when asked what qualities make Hill one of the NFL's top wide receivers. "But that's the easy answer."

Indeed, there's more to Hill's game than speed and more to the big plays.

Hill ranks second in the league in receptions (68) and fifth in receiving yards this season (772). He ranks ninth this season with average separation above expectations of .20 seconds. At 5-foot-10, he doesn't have a height advantage over most opponents, but he tends to get an advantage from the snap even if the nearest defender is on him right away.

"He's one of the best in the league at the line of scrimmage," ESPN NFL analyst Matt Bowen said. "His lateral change of direction ability, his ability to set up a defensive back, allows him to get into the routes with more speed and to run away from coverage. He creates that instant separation and then you get into that immediate burst and then the long speed, which allows him to create explosive plays.

"He's excellent after the catch, too. His catch-and-run ability is near the top of the league. That's why you see Kansas City throw so many quicks, so many unders, and use him on wide receivers screens. That all allows him to play to his ability to attack open grass."

Chiefs wide receivers coach Joe Bleymaier said, "He doesn't let the defender reroute him or force him anywhere he doesn't want to go."

Hill also appears to get in and out of his breaks on his pass routes at or near top speed. He doesn't seem to slow when he makes a cut.

"When you watch him sync his hips and transitions in and out of breaks, it's amazing to see," Bieniemy said. "You look at it sometimes and wonder, 'How did he come out of that?' Those are the things he works on."

Since joining the Chiefs, Hill has showed a talent for making plays downfield, even when he has been well covered. In those cases, he has adjusted to the ball better than the defensive back in his area.

Chiefs coach Andy Reid has frequently cited this ability as one of Hill's best, saying he would make an excellent baseball center fielder.

"The thing that amazes me the most is that he's fast and quick, but it's his endurance while being fast and quick," Reid said. "Normally, you don't see that. I tell him that he has this ‘Cheetah' nickname, but he is really not a cheetah because they're normally a burst and then they go rest for about eight hours. That's not this guy. He can keep going, over and over again. It's pretty amazing.

"He's got a unique combination [of skills]."

Bowen said, "He doesn't slow down when the ball is in the air. There are three guys who fit into that group. It's Tyreek Hill, it's Antonio Brown and it's DeSean Jackson. They are faster when the ball is in the air because they don't break stride. They have great ball-tracking ability."

Hill played a lot at running back in college and looks like one when he runs with the ball after the catch. His speed and quickness help, but he also usually makes good decisions about where to go with the ball.

"That's why you see him get the ball on reverses and jets, because he has great vision," Bowen said. "He turns into a running back after the catch and that's a special trait for a wide receiver to have. There aren't many wide receivers who have it."

Hill said his understanding of defenses and their coverages has helped him grow as a receiver since he joined the Chiefs in 2016. The wide receivers coach at the time was David Culley, now the head coach of the Houston Texans.

Culley taught Hill to see the entire secondary before the snap and not just the cornerback covering him.

"He always told me the good [receivers], they see one safety, but the great ones, they see the whole field, like the corners and the safeties," Hill said. "I always try to keep that in my mind when I line up. I always try to see what the other corner is doing and both safeties are doing before I line up."

Hill's signature plays are the ones that go for big yards, but he has been affected by the Chiefs' offensive slump as much as anyone. He has seven catches this season of 20 or more yards, all coming in the first four games of the season. He had 10 such catches through nine games last year.

But Bowen said he doesn't see a player on the decline when he watches the 2021 version of Hill.

"I know he's had a couple of drops that led to interceptions. But in terms of production and his impact on the overall game and the consistent conflict he places on the defense, there's been no drop-off in his game. He's still one of the best."

More likely, the decline in Hill's numbers are a symptom of a larger problem with quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the offense. To the Chiefs and safety Tyrann Mathieu, he's still one of the best.

"Most players are competitive, but he has competitive greatness," Mathieu said. "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."