Tyreek Hill Is Not Worth His Lofty Draft Cost in Fantasy Football
Tyreek Hill came into the league in 2016 and immediately became a tough puzzle to crack for fantasy football.
His offensive usage was very low through the first six weeks of the season, but with 3 touchdowns on only 14 receptions in that stretch, his playmaking ability was clear. He went on to finish the season averaging the fourth-most fantasy points per 100 snaps (47.6) among all players that averaged at least 20 snaps per game.
His role in the Kansas City Chiefs' offense was tough to nail down, as he garnered 83 targets and 24 carries, and combining that with concerns about his efficiency being sustainable, he was a polarizing fantasy pick heading into his sophomore season. In 2017, we saw him land more of a traditional wide receiver role, with his targets jumping to 105 (second on the team), while he only notched 17 carries. His per-snap efficiency fell by over half (to 21.1 points per 100 snaps), but he was still absurdly efficient on a per-target basis, ranking third with 2.28 fantasy points per target (minimum 50).
The Chiefs' offense is full of weapons in 2018, with Hill, Travis Kelce and Kareem Hunt being joined by Sammy Watkins, while Patrick Mahomes will take the reins under center. With all the changes, can we count on Hill turning in another strong fantasy season?
According to ESPN's Average Draft Position (ADP) data, Hill is going at 30.4 in standard snake drafts, making him the 11th wideout off the board. That is way too steep a price tag, making Hill an easy player to fade this year.
While the uptick in targets for Hill was encouraging, they still left a lot of room for concern. His 105 targets were the fewest among anyone that finished as a top-18 fantasy wideout, and only 3 players in the top 24 saw fewer targets than Hill.
The number of pass plays a team runs has had almost no correlation year-over-year dating back to 2013, so instead of total volume it can be more useful to look at a player's share of his team's targets. Hill accounted for 20.4% of the targets that went to KC's skill-position players. That number remains low for a top-tier fantasy wideout, though it still ranks bottom-5 among the top-25 in fantasy scoring. He was the only wideout that finished in the top 10 with a share below 26.9%.
While the Chiefs will be playing without Albert Wilson, who had a 12% market share (62 targets), don't expect there to be a void to fill in 2018, since Kansas City spent big money on Watkins, giving him a reported $30 million in guaranteed money.
We can't completely rule out Hill's workload increasing, but with more coming in than going out as far as offensive weapons go, there aren't many easy paths (excluding injuries) for him to see more than a slight bump in targets. So to keep him as a top-12 fantasy wideout, like he's being drafted as, he needs to continue to produce at a hyper-efficient clip.
Efficiency is far more unpredictable than volume, and over the short-term it is hugely prone to variance. This is true in just about every sport, but a unique thing about football is that we really only get a short-term over a year (save for dynasty formats). 16 games may be a full season, but it's also still a small sample, at only 20% of the the length of an NBA season and 10% of an MLB season.
We can see this effect play out in wide receiver fantasy scoring over the past five years.
Setting our minimum target threshold at 50 again, if we look back 5 season to 2013, there have only been 10 instances of a wideout recording back-to-back seasons with at least 2.0 fantasy points per target, which includes Hill's 2 seasons in the NFL. He's also one of only two players to finish with better than 2.25 fantasy points per target in back-to-back years, and there has only been one player to cross that 2.0 mark in three consecutive seasons.
So what has been the key to Hill's efficiency?
A big part of it is touchdowns. Over his 2 NFL seasons, touchdowns have accounted for 27.4% of Hill's fantasy scoring. To put that in context, only 3 of last year's top-36 fantasy scoring wideouts were more touchdown-reliant than that.
Depending on touchdowns isn't always a negative thing. We've seen elite red zone threats like Rob Gronkowski and Dez Bryant be consistent fantasy studs in the past. But Hill is cut from a very, very different cloth.
Despite the increased volume he saw, Hill's touchdown numbers fell last year. Including return touchdowns, he had 12 in 2016, then only 8 in 2017. That dropoff still exists looking at only rushing and receiving touchdowns as well, from 9 to 7.
Even just looking at those seven offensive touchdowns, there's a lot to suggest that Hill won't be able to sustain his scoring clip. He saw fewer than 5% of his team's red zone opportunities (targets and rush attempts) last year, with four targets and two carries. He didn't score a single touchdown on those red zone looks.
Five of Hill's seven touchdowns in 2017 came from his own side of midfield, scoring on 6.9% of the targets he saw on the Chiefs' snaps in their own territory. Among wideouts with 50-plus targets, only 16 players scored at that high of a rate on all targets, regardless of where on the field they came from. Narrowing our view to players with at least 50 targets coming from their own side of the 50, the next-highest touchdown rate was over a third lower than Hill's, at 4%, while the group's average was a tiny 0.9%.
Again expanding our view back to all targets, there have been 161 players to see at least 50 over the last 2 seasons combined. Hill ranks 7th among wide receivers (and 12th overall) in that group in touchdown rate. Among those top-seven wideouts, there are only three who saw fewer than 15% of their targets come in the red zone: Hill (11.1%), Watkins (11.4%) and Kenny Stills (8.6%).
As premier deep threats, it's not hugely surprising to see Watkins and Stills outscore what you'd expect from their red zone numbers. But Hill doesn't quite match up with that profile. Over the last two years, Watkins has an average depth of target (aDOT) of 14.4 yards, while Stills' sits at 14.7. Hill's is over 30% lower than those marks, at 10.0.
So, despite not seeing targets in high-scoring areas, not only is Hill racking up big touchdown numbers, he's also doing it without being targeted on as many high-scoring type throws as the other guys who do.
How Special is He?
So, essentially, given that we shouldn't expect a huge increase in Hill's workload, we need him to continue being as efficient as he has over his first two seasons. Is that impossible? Not at all. There are special players in the league -- guys that break the mold and do what seems impossible for long stretches.
But that's not something you want to make a habit of betting on in fantasy football. Hill may end up going down as the most efficient player of all time. He might be the best big-play threat the league has ever seen -- continuing to score from his half of the field as often as other players are able to score overall.
That is the best-case scenario, the 1% out. And even if that plays out and he redefines what looks possible for a receiver, that's just what we need to get Hill as a top-10 fantasy producer. That's not exactly a special payout since he's being drafted as WR11. If we could somehow get a 99-to-1 return on Hill continuing his absurd efficiency, he might be worth the gamble -- emphasis on might.