Without Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs 'lose the ability to instill fear'

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs didn't necessarily remove themselves from consideration for a seventh consecutive AFC West championship or a spot in the Super Bowl for the third time in four seasons with Wednesday's blockbuster transaction.

But there's no disputing that they made their job more difficult by trading wide receiver Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins.

"When you move Tyreek Hill from that offense, you lose the ability to instill fear into the opposing defense," said ESPN NFL analyst and former defensive back Matt Bowen. "When Tyreek Hill is on the field, the defense is consistently threatened at all three levels because he can catch a shallow [pass] and go for six, he can catch a deep in and go for six and he can run right past you deep whenever he wants. He could beat you vertically or horizontally. Such a unique talent.

"That element is now gone from their offense."

Hill is the most dynamic NFL player of his era. He has 20 touchdowns of 50-plus yards, or seven more than any other player, since he entered the league in 2016. He has 26 receiving touchdowns on passes thrown at least 20 yards downfield since 2017, 10 more than any other player.

There isn't much clarity on how effectively the Chiefs will operate without him. He's been remarkably durable during his career, missing just six games. Two came at the end of the season in both 2017 and 2020, when the Chiefs were sitting many of their regulars in preparation for the playoffs.

Four came in 2019 when an injury knocked him out of their lineup. Then, the Chiefs went 3-1 without Hill. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes passed for almost 500 yards in one game and more than 300 yards in two others.

Surviving and even thriving during a four-game stretch without Hill three years ago doesn't seem instructive now, with the Chiefs building a playbook for a season without him. Their top two receivers then without Hill were Sammy Watkins and Demarcus Robinson. Both are now gone.

The Chiefs' top receivers in 2022, at least until they can add through free agency or the draft, are the recently signed JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman.

"I really like that move," Bowen said of Smith-Schuster. "I think that's one of the most underrated moves in free agency. He brings a physical element to that offense. He's a physical presence. He's a big slot receiver. He can work inside the hashes, where it gets a little dirty. There are a lot of bodies in there. But he also has some catch-and-run ability. He's more explosive than given credit for.

"Hardman plays a specific role in that offense. He can stretch the defense vertically or horizontally. But he's not Tyreek Hill."

The Chiefs are interested in signing Green Bay Packers wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who has part of Hill's game but not all.

"He's a different kind of player," Bowen said. "He's a longer body, longer frame, more of a straight-line player. But he can take the top off a defense. He can be schemed to get matchups versus a safety in quarters coverage or to win outside as a vertical target. He doesn't have the lateral quickness of a Tyreek Hill. He's not the same player. But the Chiefs aren't going to get the same player. That player is now in Miami with the Dolphins."

With some creative play designs by coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, the Chiefs might be able to cover for Hill's loss with multiple different receivers, including Smith-Schuster, Hardman, tight end Travis Kelce, possibly Valdez-Scantling and others. The Chiefs after the Hill trade have two picks in each of the first four rounds, giving them the ability to target players with specific skills they believe fit their scheme.

An interesting possibility is Alabama wide receiver Jameson Williams, who tore an ACL during last season's national championship game.

"We know he has game-changing speed," Bowen said. "We know he has game-changing ability. We know he had a knee injury last year, but they're not drafting him for the first four games in September. They're drafting him to play his career in Kansas City.

"That's the first player that comes to mind when you're trying to replicate that type of game-changing speed and that element of fear you can create in defensive backs."