Troubled Tyreek Hill helping add Super Bowl dimension to emerging Chiefs

Fifth-round picks typically stir big debates as the draft enters the weekend. Those selections usually don’t transform Super Bowl contenders as rookies. This season has been an exception for both.

Meet Tyreek Hill, the Kansas City Chiefs’ controversial and skilled runner/receiver/return man who came to town with more baggage than the closest Trump Tower. Anyone who watched Hill in his one year of Division I football at Oklahoma State came away with one thought about his ability as a player: electric. And yet anyone who read the reports of Hill choking and punching his pregnant girlfriend in December 2014 should have come away with another feeling: disgust.

Hill was kicked off the Cowboys’ team and pleaded guilty to domestic abuse by strangulation. In return for his plea, he received three months’ probation, which felt like a light sentence. “I did something I shouldn’t have done,” Hill told associate district Judge Stephen Kistler, per The Oklahoman. “I let my feelings take control of me.”

Tyreek Hill, left, has helped transform the Kansas City Chiefs, but his past hasn't been forgotten. (AP)
Tyreek Hill, left, has helped transform the Kansas City Chiefs, but his past hasn’t been forgotten. (AP)

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The underlying belief was that the incident would seriously hinder his ability to make a fruitful living in the NFL. This all happened in the wake of the league’s awful year with domestic violence, which became a national scourge following the Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy cases.

Shutdown Corner spoke with three teams about Hill, who transferred to West Alabama after leaving OSU, and two of them said they had removed him from their draft boards. The third team had a draftable grade on Hill as a player but put him on their “reserve” board, relegated to players with serious reservations (typically character or medical concerns) that they would not spend a draft pick on but would consider signing as an undrafted free agent.

The Chiefs felt better about Hill than other NFL teams. They selected him with the 165th pick in April’s draft, and even with that fairly low spot the selection immediately resonated locally and across the NFL. Some Chiefs fans went on radio to condemn the pick. The media criticized the team, which defended taking Hill and promised that it did its due diligence on a player who did some heinous things.

In short, Hill had a lot to prove — and perhaps a shorter leash than the other rookies trying to make the team.

“Those fans … they have every right to be mad at me because I did something wrong and I just let my emotions get the best of me and I shouldn’t have done it,” Hill said on draft weekend. “They have every right to be mad. But guess what, I’m going to come back and be a better man, be a better citizen and everything will just take care of itself and let God do the rest.”

It was clear early in training camp that the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Hill had special abilities. The speed he showed with his 4.29 40-yard dash at his pro day was on full display in pads, too. In the preseason, he totaled 101 yards on five offensive touches and showed explosion in the return game. After a 58-yard catch and two good punt returns in the third preseason game against the Chicago Bears, it was obvious that Hill would make the team.

Early in the regular season, he was used sparingly on offense. But when Jeremy Maclin went down early against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 9 (and would miss the following four games) Hill’s role on offense increased. Once he got the ball in his hands, special things happened. And by the time the Chiefs beat the Broncos in Denver in Week 12, with Hill catching nine passes, rushing for a TD and running back a kickoff 86 yards for a score, it was clear he was here to stay.

How did Hill not completely dominate at West Alabama? In 11 games last season, he totaled only 254 rush yards (fourth-best for the Tigers) and 444 receiving yards (second-most).

The Chiefs probably do not beat the Oakland Raiders on Thursday night without him on the field. After Hill’s fumble on a punt return for what would have been their first possession, he atoned. Hill caught a game-high six passes (for 66 yards, including a 36-yard TD) and had a total of 14 touches for 192 yards, including a 78-yard punt return TD that helped give the Chiefs a three-score lead. Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub even has invoked the name of Devin Hester, whom Toub coached at the start of his Chicago Bears career, when comparing Hill.

On offense, losing Maclin ended up being a blessing in disguise for the Chiefs. They were forced to reinvent themselves and find ways to manufacture offense in his absence. One way was by giving more touches to Hill, who is averaging nearly seven catches over the past five games after only 22 receptions in his first eight games. Thursday might have shown Alex Smith’s warts, but it also demonstrates how many matchup problems the Chiefs present. With Maclin and tight end Travis Kelce on the field, the Raiders opted to double Kelce, who had 26 catches for 380 yards during Maclin’s absence and had just ripped off a 16-yard catch up the middle. With Kelce covered, Smith went to Hill, who got on top of corner David Amerson and beat the safety for the 36-yard score.

But Hill’s atonement for his sins off the field, the Chiefs swear, is just as impressive.

Some, naturally, are skeptical. He has many vocal critics who have decried his actions and speak up the more he’s mentioned as a burgeoning star. But if Thursday was any indication, Chiefs fans — at least those at Arrowhead for the Raiders game — rightly or wrongly are putting that incident in some well-guarded place in the backs of their minds. Before his 78-yard return for a score, the crowd chanted loudly, “TY-REEK HILL! TY-REEK HILL!”

Hill has won over Chiefs fans, but his past will and perhaps always should follow him. He has rewarded the team so far for believing in him, and the hard work on and off the field have just begun. But make no mistake: Whether he’s a nice guy or not, Hill has added a dimension to the Chiefs that put them in the discussion of teams that can win a Super Bowl.

Yes, that’s a fifth-round pick we’re talking about.

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!