When Tyreek Hill lines up in the slot, often tight to the line of scrimmage, it’s trouble for opposing defenses.
Of course, the Chiefs’ top wide receiver spells danger no matter where he’s aligned before the snap. With 4.29 40-yard dash speed and after-the-catch wizardry, Hill never makes things easy on the opposition. But that tight slot position often signals that Hill is going to run one of his most dangerous routes: The deep cross.
Classically, an NFL crossing pattern is a mostly horizontal route — a receiver takes a few steps forward before cutting across the field, parallel with the yard lines. Think the 2020 Pittsburgh Steelers to imagine a basic crossing route.
Hill’s deep crosser adds a whole new dimension. While traveling from one side of the field to another, Hill is also going deep. CBS commentator Tony Romo compared it to a go route that’s turned diagonally during Kansas City’s divisional round win over the Browns.
“Where he’s taken his game to another level is his route running,” Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce told ESPN. “You can’t put a cap on his speed. You can’t do it. You see it week in and week out … Every single week it’s not necessarily how you stop Tyreek Hill. It’s how you contain him. You can’t contain the Cheetah. He just keeps taking his game to another level.”
Before Hill back-flipped into the end zone against the Buccaneers in Week 12, he ran a deep crossing route. He began in the left slot, closest to the line of scrimmage of Kansas City’s receivers, and then took off on a diagonal sprint. With Tampa Bay in man-to-man coverage, it stood no chance.
Think about the mechanics for a man-to-man defensive back covering Hill in this scenario. The man with the @Cheetah Twitter handle is faster than any defensive back in the NFL, at least based on 40-yard dash time. So that’s working against the defender from the outset.
At the snap, Hill could go in any direction, so the cornerback has to wait for just a split second while Hill gets his start. Since there doesn’t need to be any intricate cuts or manuevers on this play, Hill can be a step past the defender before shoulders are even turned. At that point, Patrick Mahomes may throw in a look the other direction to freeze a zoning safety, and then he’s just got to deliver a good ball to Hill.
As Hill showed against the Rams a couple years ago, Kansas City doesn’t even need a long field to make his speed uncoverable on one of these diagonal routes.
Hill’s dominance on deep crossing routes also opens up opportunities for variations. He can start to cross the field before instead turning it straight forward to fool the defense. Hill made that happen on a 44-yard touchdown against the Dolphins in December.
Tyreek Hill reached 21.91 MPH on this 44-yard deep TD from Patrick Mahomes, the 4th-fastest speed reached by a ball carrier this season and Hill’s fastest this season.
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) December 13, 2020
Because of the improvements Hill has made since entering the NFL, the Chiefs don’t need to just rely on his speed. They don’t have him just go deep on every play, so it might only be in a key moment when they identify man-to-man coverage that Hill is asked to sprint diagonally across the field.
If Kansas City gets the right matchup, which it usually does, that’s not a fun spot for the defense to be in. Hill will likely outrun his defender yet again, and Mahomes will likely throw a dime, again. All that’s left after Hill catches the ball is to redirect in a straight line toward the end zone.