KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When quarterback Alex Smith stepped into his throw, wide receiver Tyreek Hill trailed the cornerback covering him by two strides at the 25-yard line, and yet the Kansas City Chiefs rookie had the situation completely in his control at Arrowhead Stadium Sunday.
“He would have been a great center fielder, I’m telling you, man,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “He’s able to adjust to the ball so well. You see it on punts. That’s God-given.”
Hill looked skyward, tracking the ball to its destination, gliding effortless past cornerback New Orleans cornerback Ken Crawley. As Hill burst past him in the end zone, Crawley desperately tugged at Hill’s right arm to stop the touchdown, but to no avail.
“You’ve got to have trust to just put it up,” Reid said. “He was virtually covered, so it was an air time play. You put it up, and you bank that he’s going to go get it.”
The rookie wideout described the play simply.
“Alex just told me to run as fast as I can and I was able to make a play,” Hill said.
The 38-yard touchdown strike the blazing rookie snagged with his left arm before breaking free and cradling the ball to his body tells the story of why the Chiefs took a chance on him on draft day.
Smith said after Sunday’s 27-21 win he wasn’t sure what Hill could contribute as a rookie when the season began.
“I didn’t know totally what to expect,” Smith said. “It’s hard to gauge rookies on what they might contribute. You get the full spectrum, it’s just different for everybody and all those positions are different.”
Hill’s size, at 5-10, 185 pounds on the right day, draws immediate comparisons to his predecessors at Arrowhead Stadium, including Dante Hall, Dexter McCluter and De’Anthony Thomas. But Hill’s early success puts him on pace to eclipse all of their rookie season accomplishments.
Through six games, Hill’s tallied 125 receiving yards, 17 more on the ground and 385 yards on kick returns.
Hall posted just 395 return yards as a rookie, and didn’t become an serious offensive contributor until this third year in the league. McCluster picked up 1,009 all-purpose yards in his 2010 season, while Thomas compiled 1,102 in 2014.
Hill already has 527 combined net yards, on a pace for 1,405 yards. That projection could climb higher as he picks up more returns with the departure of Knile Davis and works his way more into the Chiefs offense.
Rookie receivers typically have the most difficulty adjusting to Reid’s expansive West Coast offense playbook. Hill’s pace puts him on track for 333 receiving yards.
That would rank sixth for most yards among rookie pass catchers under Reid. The others: DeSean Jackson (912 yards), Jeremy Maclin (773), Reggie Brown (571), Zach Ertz (469) and Hank Baskett (464).
The rookie played 29 offensive snaps through the teams’ first three games, but now has played 18 snaps each of the last last three outings. Add his work as a kick returner and gunner on kick coverage teams, and his workload grows.
Smith and Hill foreshadowed Sunday’s touchdown during preparations last week. The duo worked after practice Thursday on the exact throw that connected against the Saints.
“Alex and I have been working together a lot and it’s working out,” Hill said.
Smith said he’s impressed by Hill’s emergence.
“He has a lot on his plate special teams wise,” Smith said, “and then offensively has grown more and more, but has been able to handle it mentally, which is probably the biggest thing honestly.”