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Historical Comps for Tyreek Hill’s Rookie Season

How does Tyreek Hill’s rookie season compare to other recent rookies, and how do those comps inform our expectations going forward?

If you’ve been around RotoViz for any length of time, you know we like making range of outcome-based projections. And we’ve got a fantastic Screener to facilitate that. My goal is to set some expectations for the 2016 rookie wide receivers.

To do that, I set the Screener to find rookies from 2010 – 2016, and selected some basic production and usage numbers as variables. I also included draft pick. The influence of draft pick on a player’s opportunity declines over time, but it’s still relevant heading into a player’s second season. Then I asked the Screener to find seasons comparable to my target player.1 Up next, Tyreek Hill.

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Maybe it’s just me, but those comps feel right. Tim Wright was a wide receiver who became a tight end. Allen Hurns was an undrafted free agent who usurped a second-round pick. John Brown was an exciting small school wide receiver slash return man. Titus Young was promising as a rookie and perhaps literally crazy. Denarius Moore flashed potential as both a receiver and returner before flaming out. Wild! Wacky! Unexpected! Sounds like Tyreek Hill. We might also say: “Hard to predict!” or “Big margin of error!”

As second-year players, these comps averaged a healthy 11.4 PPR points per game. For their post-rookie careers, they averaged 9.8 points per game. If I expand the comparability search to 10 names I get Dez Bryant and Jamison Crowder…but also Aaron Dobson, Marlon Brown, and Jordan Shipley.

Pros

Hill was certainly exciting as a rookie, and he earned a role straightaway. He recorded at least one target in all 16 games, averaging over five per game. Among all rookie WRs, he finished fourth in targets (83) and third in receptions (61). Hill also took advantage of opportunity when it came his way.

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In games Jeremy Maclin missed or was targeted fewer than five times, Hill averaged 13.3 points per game. Hill appears set up for a decent role as a sophomore.

Cons

Hill averaged under 10 yards per reception and just 7.2 yards per target, hardly exhilarating numbers. Some of that is due to checkdown king Alex Smith, but even in that context he didn’t really excel.

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I suppose the good news is that he was the most efficient of Alex Smith’s WRs. But that’s not saying much, especially when he was handily outperformed by a running back. Despite playing in all 16 games, Hill logged only 415 snaps, 51st among WRs that played a full season. Among rookies, Sterling Shepard (1,006), Michael Thomas (866), Will Fuller (829), Tajae Sharpe (787), Tyler Boyd (739), Robby Anderson (718), and Corey Coleman (533 in 10 games) all handily out-snapped him, as did fellow Chiefs Chris Conley (816) and Albert Wilson (466).

I’m writing that in the “Cons” section, but it could be as simple as a late-round rookie needing to earn the confidence of coaches. His snap counts generally increased throughout the season, which supports that notion. It could also be that his involvement in the return game led to less time in both practices and games on offense. That seems unlikely to change. Hill led the NFL in punt return average and was among the leaders in kickoff return average as well. Will that heavy special teams involvement limit his offensive role? I don’t know. Some top receivers – Antonio Brown, Jarvis Landry, Julian Edelman – are also return men. But most return men are not top receivers. If you play in a league that rewards return yardage then this is obviously a “Pro,” but if not, I think it’s worth being cautious about.

Outlook

There are definitely question marks. Our memories of Hill’s big plays might overshadow the fact that he was at best a part time player (about 40 percent of team snaps), who was relatively inefficient as a receiver. Could he become a full time player? It’s possible the Chiefs lose Albert Wilson in free agency, and their cap situation at present precludes them bringing in significant competition. It’s also possible he turns out like Cordarelle Patterson, a dynamic returner who’s limited as a receiver. If very early and limited ADP data is any guide though, I think Hill is fairly priced. As the 33rd WR in start ups, both Hill’s upside and uncertainty seem fairly accounted for.

  1. The app provides 20 comparables, but I’m limiting myself to the top five. I’m also excluding fellow 2016 rookies from the comps.  (back)

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