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

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. The Kansas City Chiefs did not necessarily move away from considering 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 is no doubt that they made their job harder by swapping wide receiver Tyreek Hill for the Miami Dolphins.

“When you move Tyreek Hill off the offensive, you lose the ability to instill fear in the opponent’s defense,” said ESPN NFL analyst and former defender Matt Bowen. “When Tyreek Hill is on the field, the defense is constantly threatened at all three levels because he can catch a shallow [pass] and go after six, he can catch a deep in and go to six, and he can run right past you deep whenever he wants. He could hit you vertically or horizontally. Such a unique talent.

“That element is now away from their offense.”

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

There is not much clarity on how effectively Chiefs will function without him. He has been remarkably tenable over the course of his career and has only missed six games. Two came at the end of the season in both 2017 and 2020, with the Chiefs sitting with many of their regular players 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 nearly 500 yards in one game and more than 300 yards in two others.

Surviving and even thriving over a stretch of four games without Hill three years ago does not seem instructive now that the Chiefs are building a playbook for a season without him. Their two best receivers at the time without Hill were Sammy Watkins and Demarcus Robinson. Both are now gone.

Chiefs’ top beneficiaries in 2022, at least until they can add through free agency or draft, are the newly signed JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman.

“I really like that move,” Bowen said of Smith-Schuster. “I think it’s one of the most underrated traits in free agency. He brings a physical element to that offense. He’s a physical presence. He’s a great slot receiver. He can work inside the hash where it gets a little dirty.There are a lot of bodies in there.But he also has some catch-and-run abilities.He is more explosive than you get the credit for.

“Hardman plays a specific role in that attack. He can stretch the defense vertically or horizontally. But he’s not Tyreek Hill.”

Chiefs are interested in signing Green Bay Packers wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who has some but not all of Hills’ play.

“He’s a different kind of player,” Bowen said. “He’s a longer body, longer frame, more of a linear player. But he can take the top of a defense. He can be scheduled to get matchups versus a safety in quarterback coverage or to win outside as a vertical goal. He “does not have the lateral speed like a Tyreek Hill. He is not the same player. But the Chiefs are not going to get the same player. That player is now in Miami with the Dolphins.”

With some creative game designs by coach Andy Reid and coordinator Eric Bieniemy, the Chiefs could possibly cover the offensive for Hills’ loss with several different receivers, including Smith-Schuster, Hardman, tight-end Travis Kelce, possibly Valdez-Scantling and others. The Chiefs after the Hill trade has two choices in each of the first four rounds, allowing them to target players with specific skills that they think fit their plan.

An interesting option is Alabama wide receiver Jameson Williams, who battled an ACL during last season’s national championship game.

“We know he’s changing speed,” Bowen said. “We know he has the ability to change games. We know he had a knee injury last year, but they are not drafting him for the first four games in September. They are drafting him to play his career in Kansas City.

“It’s the first player that comes to mind when you try to copy the type of game-changing speed and the element of fear you can create in defensive backs.”

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