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The Cheetah factor: Why Tyreek Hill's clearly the most explosive player in the NFL

Next Gen Stats analysts Keegan Abdoo and Mike Band join forces to prove why Tyreek Hill is an athletic outlier compared to the rest of the league with the support of data derived from player-tracking technology.

What makes a wide receiver successful at the professional level?

Ask scouts that question, and they will tell you the player doesn't need to have elite speed. Ball skills, football IQ, work ethic and durability are just a few of the sections on a wide receiver's scouting report unrelated to speed, acceleration or agility.

Football is, however, a game of matchups measured in yards that often come down to inches. And having a player like Tyreek Hill, who can create big plays with rare athletic traits, transforms an offense from hyper-efficient to historic levels. This is what makes the first-team All-Pro wideout the most explosive offensive player in the National Football League today. And his electric ability's on full display from snap to whistle ...

Elite burst off the line of scrimmage

What makes Hill so difficult to defend? It starts with his ability to go from 0 to 10 miles per hour after the ball is snapped. Using Next Gen Stats player tracking data, we can measure a route runner's speed within one second of the snap as a representation of initial burst.

Much like a cheetah can go from 0 to 60 mph in three seconds -- holding the title as fastest cat in the animal kingdom -- Hill, who unsurprisingly has embraced the nickname "Cheetah," is the only receiver in the NFL who can consistently go from 0 to 10 mph in less than one second. Hill's average top speed within the first second of a route (10.19 mph) is faster than any route runner with at least 200 routes this season (and the only route runner over 10 mph). The average wideout reaches an average top speed of 8.76 mph within one second of a route.

When the objective is to stretch the field, no one gets off the line of scrimmage like Hill. His average speed off the line of scrimmage is head-and-shoulders above his peers on corner, post, go and crossing routes this season.

Hill is responsible for the three fastest speeds within one second on a corner route (out of 2,412 WR corner routes), two of the fastest three speeds on posts (out of 4,290 WR post routes) and half of the top six speeds on go routes (out of 12,051 WR go routes).

Second gear to separate from defenders

It's not just Hill's ability to accelerate off the line of scrimmage -- the Chiefs' speedy receiver also possesses the second gear necessary to create separation as the play develops. By looking at top speeds within two seconds of a route, we see why defenders have so much trouble staying with Hill over the course of a play.

Hill's ability to run away from defenders with speed is most evident on crossing routes. He averages a top speed of 15.70 mph on crossers, the best figure among the 64 players with the most crossing routes. Out of Hill's 28 targets on crossing routes this season, only one was thrown into a tight window (i.e. less than 1 yard of separation).

The ability of a wide receiver to turn on the jets is not only valuable for creating separation before the pass arrives, but also critical in generating big plays after the catch. According to the Next Gen Stats' expected yards after catch model, which predicts how many yards a ball carrier will gain from the moment the catch is made, Hill has gained +168 YAC over expected (YACOE) this season, including the postseason, fourth-most in the NFL. A substantial proportion of Hill's YACOE (+112) has come in the short area of the field (i.e. targets from the line of scrimmage to 10 yards downfield).

Don't forget about the top-end speed

There might not be a faster player in the NFL than Tyreek Hill in the open field. The Chiefs burner reached a max speed of more than 20 miles per hour on a league-high 11 offensive touches and 22 routes run during the regular season. The fastest speed Hill has ever recorded in the NGS era -- 22.81 mph running down the field on a Damien Williams 84-yard touchdown run in Week 17 of last season -- ranks as the second-fastest speed by any player on any play since 2018, behind only 49ers running back Raheem Mostert, who reached 23.09 mph on an 80-yard touchdown run in Week 2.

Earlier this season, our team compared Hill and Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf's fastest plays of their respective careers in what could best be described as a virtual boat race. The purpose of the exercise was to simulate which player would win a race at the 10-yard, 40-yard and 75-yard marks from a comparable starting point (i.e. when the players were running at the same speed and acceleration).

The winner in all three distances? You guessed it: Tyreek Hill.

How can the Buccaneers limit Hill on Super Bowl Sunday?

If the first quarter of the Chiefs' 27-24 win over the Bucs in Week 12 was any indication of how Super Bowl LV might play out, Tyreek will have plenty of opportunities to pad the stat sheet. Hill eclipsed 200 yards receiving in the first 15 minutes of that game, with most of his early production coming against Buccaneers cornerback Carlton Davis in coverage.

Hill's elite initial burst, second gear and top-end speed were on full display during his 75-yard touchdown on a go route midway through the first quarter.

Hill took advantage of Davis' off-coverage (cushion: 10.4 yards), reaching a top speed of 14.40 mph within one second of his route (Davis' speed at the same moment: 9.49 mph). Hill used his second gear to get over the top of Davis at nearly the exact same time quarterback Patrick Mahomes released the pass. At that very moment, Hill was traveling 20.21 mph. Davis? 16.32 mph. Touchdown.

The Buccaneers' defense lined up in a single-high safety shell on 61 percent of plays in the first quarter, leaving the secondary susceptible to vertical shots down the sideline. Mahomes and Hill took full advantage, connecting seven times for 203 yards and two touchdowns in the game's opening stanza. The Todd Bowles-led defense responded by aligning in two-high safeties on 72 percent of plays for the rest of the game. Hill was "held" to six receptions for 66 yards and one touchdown over the course of the final three quarters.

So, how will the Buccaneers' defense try to slow Hill on Super Bowl Sunday? The answer is far from obvious. When opposing defenses line up with two high safeties, Hill averages 2.0 yards per route (compared to 3.2 against single high). The problem with playing two high safeties against the Chiefs? Travis Kelce becomes more involved. Kelce averages 3.3 yards per route against two-high safeties (compared to 2.5 against single-high). It might not matter which defensive scheme Bowles and Co. draw up for the big game on Sunday. It's a catch-22 situation when trying to defend this high-powered Chiefs offense.

Follow Keegan Abdoo and Mike Band on Twitter.

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