Cheetah. The name itself oozes acceleration. I once asked my four-year-old daughter who was the fastest animal in the world was. She rolled her eyes at me and without missing a beat goes, “Cheetah. Duh.” The golden pelt with the black dots is as distinct as the penguin and their tuxedo. What is the impact of the ecosystem if a Cheetah wasn’t fast? Would other animals be afraid or would the Cheetah be threatened by a pack of slower animals? What if the fastest wide receiver in the league was no longer on a team? What would the domino effect be if the highest scoring team in the NFL no longer had their unguardable weapon?
No player in NFL history has earned a nickname more than the fastest player to ever play on the football field – Tyreek Hill. His speed and catching ability are unmatched. There was a story that came out that in preparation of the AFC Conference Championship Game New England Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick tried to simulate Hill’s speed in practice by having his scout team wide receivers start two to three yards ahead of the line of scrimmage before the snap.
Opposing defenses can focus on Hill all they want, and it hasn’t slowed him down. From a fantasy standpoint, Hill was the #1 WR in standard leagues and #3 in PPR leagues last year. Put the fastest WR in a high octane offense with a magician at quarterback, and the results are like cooking with grease. Pat Mahomes’ MVP season and Tyreek’s success goes hand in hand. Just how important was Hill to Mahome’s season last year:
Hill had a 24% target share.
Hill had 29% of Mahomes’ passing yards.
Hill had 24% of Mahomes’ TDs.
It was not just the success of Mahomes that was tied to Hill’s speed either. Captain Checkdown himself, Alex Smith, had a career year with Hill as well.
Hill had a 21% target share with Smith.
Hill had 29% of Smiths’ passing yards.
Hill had 27% of Smiths’ touchdowns.
To put these numbers into perspective with the rest of the league. Hill was top 11 in targets and top five in touchdowns per game. Every 14 catches Hill had was a touchdown. Odell Beckham’s career touchdown to catch ratio is 11%.
Unfortunately, with Hill, there is a but…
If you are reading this, I am going to assume you do not live under a rock and understand the huge amount of legal trouble in which Hill has found himself. I will not divulge my personal opinion on the matter or what I think should or will happen, but as of now Hill is on the commissioners’ exception list meaning, as of now, he is not going to play a snap of Kansas City football. For how long that last, nobody knows.
Now being a fantasy football observer, I always think of the glass half empty. A natural pessimist. Is it safe to assume that since Hill is irreplaceable that Reid will lower the speed and volume of the Chief’s offense? What happens if Mahomes drops 20% of his pass attempts. That is roughly 450 or so attempts and the target share will become extremely concentrated between Sammy Watkins, Travis Kelce and the running backs. However, with the Chiefs’ employing the 32nd ranked defense I think it is more likely than not that Reid will have to boost up the volume of the offense to keep the game competitive, with or without Hill.
Let’s assume Mahomes will get to 600 pass attempts (he had 580 last year). Now Sammy Watkins automatically becomes the WR1 in that system so he should see the standard 20-22% of targets. Stud tight end, Kelce, should see an uptick in his target volume, so let’s round it to 25-30% (he had 26% last year). Generally, in Andy Reid’s offenses the running backs see roughly 15% of targets, but for the sake of argument let’s bump it up to 20%.
Kelce 25-30% (150-180 targets)
Watkins 20-25% (120-150 targets)
Running backs 15-20% (90-120 targets)
That is a void of roughly 150 targets. Now Hill had 137 targets last year, so with the volume increase in the offense in general, that makes sense. When you take a step back and look at the massive void that is left, it puts into perspective that not only will regression be coming, but it could happen faster than anybody had anticipated.
So where will the 35% of targets go to? Demarcus Robinson? How about the second round pick out of Georgia, Mecole Hardman? Hardman had 35 catches his last year in college as a junior. Do fantasy owners expect him to suddenly learn an exotic offense and produce? Oh and to say that, “well if Calvin Ridley can step into the Falcon offense and produce so can Hardman” – Ridley, at Alabama, had double the amount of catches that Hardman has in his junior year at Georgia as well.
The fastest Cheetah on record was clocked at the Cincinnati zoo hitting a top speed of 61 mph. Expecting Robinson or Hardman to duplicate Hill’s production simply because of opportunity is like putting a hedgehog on a segway and yelling “go.”
Normally, we try to have the answers to fantasy football questions but how do you duplicate the perfect piece of a 10,000 piece puzzle? You can’t. So if Hill really does miss time and you draft Mahomes and are expecting similar results of the 2018 season – stop, it isn’t happening. If you are drafting Travis Kelce, understand that his upside is 15 touchdowns. If you are drafting Damien Williams, his upside is roughly 250-275 touches this year. I believe Hardman could have a Phillip Dorsett like season, around 40 catches and 400 yards. Robinson should not be rostered on any fantasy football team. An optimistic year for him would be 30 catches and 300 yards and that is being polite. No matter how the snaps and targets will play out if you are watching Andy Reid call plays from a Waffle House menu, let us hope he does it on a segway.