On the play, the fifth-round rookie showed the combination of daring and rare acceleration that not only made him a unanimous All-Pro selection, but also showed why the Chiefs took a gamble by selecting him after he pled guilty to domestic abuse by strangulation of his then-pregnant girlfriend in 2014 and received a three-year suspended sentence.
Hill’s selection caused plenty of angst in Kansas City, as some fans flooded the franchise’s Twitter account with negative replies following the announcement of the pick. But the Chiefs have maintained that Hill has done the right things off the field since then, meaning he’s presumably participated in court-mandated, anger-management classes while completing a year-long batterer’s intervention program.
Still, Hill knows that while some have come around on him – by the end of the season, the cheers of Ty-reek, Ty-reek rang loud throughout Arrowhead Stadium before punt returns – others have not, and he understands why.
“I really can’t change the past – I’m sorry for what I did,” Hill said. “I’m trying to do the right thing, I’m trying to learn from all these vets and be a better man, be a better father, be a better citizen for my son. I want to be a role model … like I said, I’ve just got to continue to get better everyday.”
One of the ways Hill combats that talk is by putting his energy into making sure the latter comment refers to his play on the field, as well. That part has certainly worked, as Hill – who scored a team-high 12 touchdowns this year – has already made an impact beyond anything that could have reasonably been expected.
For instance, as a returner, at least two Atlanta Falcons who faced him in the Chiefs’ 29-28 win in early December compared him to the great Devin Hester, a comparison Chiefs special teams coach Dave Toub — who coached Hester during his All-Pro days in Chicago — apparently made before the draft.
“We emphasized him a lot, man — he’s a special talent,” Falcons gunner C.J. Goodwin said of the way the Falcons prepared for Hill. “Most of us think he’s the next Devin Hester. … He’s explosive and he’s got short-yardage quickness.”
Yet, Goodwin was most impressed Hill’s fearless nature. Once in the Atlanta game, Hill caught a punt with Goodwin right in his face.
“That never happens,” Goodwin said. “He was trying to take off … fortunately I got the tackle. But yeah, he’s crazy.”
Falcons veteran Eric Weems – their best special teams player — noted that he’s friends with Hester and wouldn’t dare make the comparison if he didn’t believe it.
“He’s real dangerous — he’s the up-and-coming Devin Hester,” Weems said. “The speed, the elusiveness, the quickness, both have it. I’m serious about it. The guy is good.”
While Hill obviously had a significant impact as a returner, where he returned two punts and a kick for touchdowns and had a few more called back by penalties, he also served as a dynamic receiver, catching a team-high six touchdowns and logging position-best totals of 61 catches and 593 yards.
He also rushed 24 times for 267 yards – an absurd 11.1 yards per carry – and three touchdowns, impressing Greg Cosell, a senior producer at NFL Films who pores over countless hours of tape every year
“Tyreek Hill gave them an explosive dimension, a multi-dimensional (threat) that can line up anywhere,” Cosell said. “For three years, I’ve been trying to figure out how the Rams can’t understand what Tavon Austin is, and then Tyreek Hill is theoretically the same guy, and Andy (Reid) has a good feel for understanding how to use a player like that.”
Reid said the idea before the season was to give Hill a little more each week and see how he handles it. The challenge for Hill this offseason will be to master the entire playbook so he can see his playing time rise after logging only the 40.6 percent of the offensive snaps in 2016.
“We’re asking him to do some running back and we’re asking him to do some wide receiver so you’ve got to know those things and put yourself in a position where you can be a starter as a player,” Reid said. “Like I said, he’s innately very intelligent; he’s a smart, smart kid. Picks it up easy. And to do all the things (we did) with him is ridiculous.
“I said that about Desean (Jackson), I said that about (Jeremy) Maclin … how did they get to play so much as rookies? Because they were smart. However they were perceived, when it came down to the nitty gritty of learning, it came easy for all three of those guys.”
Still, Reid said despite Hill’s success in a brief audition at running back late in the season – when he broke off three long touchdown runs and looked like the home-run threat they’ve been missing at the position for the better part of a year – you shouldn’t expect the 5-foot-10, 185-pounder to move there full-time. Too much blocking is required.
“He’s not real big – he’s not over 200 pounds,” Reid said. “To ask him to do that … I don’t think that’s where you’re going to make your living with him.”
But Hill, who was exceedingly deferential to his teammates this season, would be willing to do whatever the team needed. For him, his Pro Bowl nod was proof that the way he’s approaching his professional career after a rocky initiation is the correct one.
“I mean, I worked my tail off, man,” Hill said. “Even when I’m at home doing nothing, I’m watching film, I’m watching highlights, I’m doing something trying to get better in this offense.”
The ultimate payoff for him last week was being able to take his grandparents – who raised him – and his little sister to Disney World in Orlando as a part of the Pro Bowl festivities. It was somewhere, he added, they’d never been able to afford to go.
“Just to see them so happy man,” Hill said. “I almost wanted to cry.”