What Can We Expect from Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill?
Last week, in a surprise move, the Chiefs parted ways with Jeremy Maclin. Here’s what I wrote about Maclin on Friday:
Maclin posted 87 catches for 1,088 yards and eight touchdowns in 2015, but had a substandard 2016, struggling to a 44-536-3 line thru 12 games. He was a respectable No. 44 WR on a per game basis through the first eight weeks, but a groin injury submarined his season.
If Maclin lands in a good situation, he will have a chance to be fantasy-relevant in 2017, but his days of being a top-25 receiver are most likely over.
The big question: how does Maclin's release impact the remaining Chiefs receivers?
Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce Without Maclin
Here’s a snapshot of how Hill and Kelce were used in the five games that Maclin either missed or didn’t catch a pass in 2016. (Note: Most of the 'without Maclin' splits floating around the fantasy football community don’t include his two-snap game against the Jaguars in Week 9. Hill and Kelce didn’t fare particularly well in that game, so even though including it serves to undercut the splits, I think it’s important to get as large of a sample as possible.)
|w/Maclin||w/o Maclin||w/Maclin||w/o Maclin|
Both players saw a bump when Maclin was out, but Hill’s involvement basically doubled, as he saw twice as many targets and caught more than twice as many passes. Both players (weirdly) scored fewer touchdowns without Maclin, which indicates that their “without Maclin” upside is even higher as those touchdowns likely regress to the mean (i.e., increase).
Albert Wilson and Chris Conley Without Maclin
Digging further, here’s a look at Wilson and Conley in those same splits:
|w/Maclin||w/o Maclin||w/Maclin||w/o Maclin|
If there’s going to be a third fantasy option in the Kansas City passing game, it looks like it will be Wilson, not Conley, but neither one jumps out.
Hill and Kelce's Current Projections
I currently have Hill projected for 85.2-748-5.3 in the passing game and 26.3-246-2.6 as a runner. These are fairly aggressive projections that place Hill as the WR16 in standard and the WR19 in PPR formats; he finished as WR15 and WR24, respectively, last year.
Hill is currently the 26th receiver off the board in MFL10s (12-team PPR best-ball drafts) that started after May 15, but that’s sure to rise with the news of Maclin’s release.
I understand the argument that Hill’s per-touch efficiency is likely to drop. To that end, I’m projecting Hill to score a touchdown once every 14.3 touches. Last year, he scored once per every 12.1 touches, so there is some regression built in.
But consider this: If we look at Week 9 to Week 17 and remove all off Hill's touchdowns (he scored five in that span), he was still on pace for 185 PPR points, which would have still been good enough for a WR36 finish last year. So even without the touchdowns, he was performing as a low-end WR3/flex type.
As for Kelce, I currently project him for 80.1-1204-4.2, which makes him the TE2 in standard formats and the top overall tight end in PPR formats. Kelce is currently the second tight end off the board in early MFL10 drafts, so there’s not a whole lot of upward mobility here.
The general consensus is that Kelce should getting a bump (and is already an elite fantasy tight end), so we’ll table that discussion for now.
But what about Tyreek?
Is he capable of a larger role?
Do the Chiefs want to utilize him more?
In March, here’s what head coach Andy Reid had to say:
“Growing Tyreek in the offense will be important," Reid told reporters at the NFL meetings in Phoenix.
In late January, Reid suggested that Hill could double his snaps:
“He was averaging 35 plays a game (in 2016),” Reid told SiriusXM NFL Radio. “Maybe he can double that or at least take it up a couple notches and allow him to get in more in a starting role.”
Hill averaged 35 plays per game for the final nine games after averaging 15 plays for the first seven games. He was the PPR WR10 in those final nine games.
From Week 9 to Week 13, while Maclin was either limited or out completely, Hill averaged 38.6 snaps, which accounted for 62% of the team’s snaps.
Most recently, Reid said that Hill would take over Maclin's Z-wide receiver position in the offense:
Reid said Tyreek Hill, a Pro Bowler last season, will likely get the first crack at replacing Maclin at the “Z” position, the spotlight receiver spot in Reid’s West Coast offense.
“I mean, he works hard and he’s skilled,” Reid said of Hill. “Is he still learning? Yeah he is still learning. I’ll tell you that with the receivers because that’s what they do until they get defenses down. But, he will give you good production at that (Z) position.”
There are those who believe that Hill doesn’t have the skill set to produce as a team’s top receiver, but in his well-respected Reception Perception series, Matt Harmon of The Fantasy Footballers said that “in limited looks as a route-runner, Hill wildly impressed” and “all the signs and signals are there that he has potential” to play in a “more full-time wide receiver role.”
So much of a player’s potential depends on his work ethic and ability to pick up things quickly. Reid says that Hill excels in both areas:
“His routes when he first came were kind of raw. They weren’t as disciplined as they need to be in this offense. So much of this offense is timing and being in a certain spot and knowing defenses, knowing secondaries and all that, how you’re going to make adjustments. That was all new. He is a smart kid. He picked it up so fast, and he was able to play at our level."
“He’ll do nothing but get better as long as he keeps the right attitude and the same work ethic he had this past year. ... He’s traditionally been, for us, a very hard worker, very diligent, wanted to do the right things. I wouldn’t expect that to change. I’m expecting good things from him."
I watched all of Hill’s targets and touches from Week 9 on and came away impressed. He’s extremely quick and agile, his route running is sharp and his top-end speed makes him a handful for any cornerback.
I’ve seen Hill doubters compare him to Cordarrelle Patterson, Tavon Austin and Percy Harvin. (I think Matt Kelley – a.k.a. @Fantasy_Mansion – really wants credit for the Patterson comparison, so I’ll mention it here. He went so far as to call Hill a "fraud" on his podcast.) The Harvin comparison is meant as an insult, I think, but he started his career with WR24, WR22 and WR7 finishes (PPR) before migraines and other ailments derailed his career. I think Hill dynasty owners would be perfectly happy with Harvin’s initial career trajectory if given the option.
Here’s a look at how Hill’s breakout year compared to the three aforementioned players. (Note: Austin broke out in his third season, while the other three were rookies when they broke out.)
Notice how Hill’s usage in the passing game (3.8 receptions per game) most closely resembles Harvin’s breakout year. And how about Hill’s 73.5% catch percentage? That is miles ahead of Patterson and Austin. This results in a yards per target of 7.1, which was significantly better than that of Patterson or Austin as well.
Patterson’s targets actually dropped from 77 as a rookie to 67 as a sophomore, and I don’t think that’s feasible for Hill given his situation, provided he stays healthy. Austin was plus-19 in targets after his breakout year, while Harvin was plus-18. Again, Harvin improved his fantasy finish as a sophomore.
Athletically, Hill is off the charts. Kelley's PlayerProfiler.com shows him in the 91th percentile or higher in 40-yard dash, Burst Score, Agility Score, Catch Radius and SPARQ-x score.
The Bottom Line
I’m definitely in the pro-Tyreek camp when it comes to his fantasy prospects in 2017. Even if he isn’t a traditional receiver, he proved he could produce in multiple ways, including the 2.8 fantasy points per game he generated as a runner.
Targets should not be an issue – Hill averaged 7.8 per game with Maclin out as the second option (after Kelce) in the passing game. This extrapolates to 125 targets for the season, so even if we rein that in -- say, to 110 -- and apply Hill's PPR points per target as a rookie (1.88), we get 207 points, which doesn't even include any production in the running game.
I think Hill is a terrific value at his current ADP in the fifth round, but that isn’t going to last. He’s worthy of a fourth-round pick as a higher-upside, higher-risk alternative to Michael Crabtree, Golden Tate or Stefon Diggs.
As for Kelce, I just took him at 4.01 in my first MFL10. I’m not a big advocate of drafting tight ends early, but no one else was jumping out at that point in the draft. (Hill was there, but I retreated to the “safety” of Crabtree, whom I also think is a great value in the fourth.)
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