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The Spotlight Series
A Footballguys Spotlight is an in-depth look at a player. His plusses and minuses are examined, and we give you our bottom-line stance on his 2022 prospects. If a player listed below doesn't yet have a link, don't worry. It's coming soon.
With 1:01 left, Oklahoma only needed a punt, then hold Oklahoma State out of the endzone to secure their 11th win in 12 years in the storied Bedlam rivalry. Jed Barnett skied a punt from the 50-yard line, the coverage team positioned themselves around the eight-yard line, and then Tyreek Hill happened. Ninety-two yards and an overtime period later, the Cowboys had executed a major upset and earned bowl eligibility. The legend of the Cheetah was born.
Most NFL fans know Hill as one of the most dominant deep threats in the league, striking fear with his speed and proving a lethal connection with Patrick Mahomes II. For many, their first impression of him as a fantasy contributor was breaking defenses vertically and finishing in the top 10 yards per reception in his second and third seasons. But his career at Oklahoma State saw a vastly different skill set on display. His college stat line:
Tyreek Hill was…a running back?
And a good one. In college, Hill was 247's top JUCO RB prospect. Hill was more than a receiver who took an occasional reverse; he was a legitimate all-purpose weapon who routinely took snaps in the I formation.
The standard narrative fades Hill on Tua Tagovailoa's lack of deep ball prowess. The reality of this skillset and experience casts a much different light on his pairing with Mike McDaniel's creative run game usage. But is there a path to realizing his high fantasy valuation now that he has ended his partnership with Mahomes?
"Use Him Like Deebo"
Deebo Samuel's dual-threat usage was a central talking point coming out of the 2021 season. As the focal point of Mike McDaniel's 49ers' offense, Samuel posted 1,405 receiving yards and 365 rushing yards to finish as the overall WR3. This breakout inspired the hunt for the next marginalized player who could spike to fantasy utility via increased involvement. "Use him like Deebo" became a battle cry for every favorite dynasty roster-stashed wide receiver. That mindset ignores two fundamental elements: Deebo Samuel is a unique talent, and The Wide Back is not new.
A true revelation in the NFL game, the dual hybrid position has long been a staple of college spread option offenses. The conceptual element forces defenses to play unbalanced, turning traditional spread offenses countered by a nickel or dime package into heavy sets a nickel defense is ill-equipped to counter. Samuel would start lining up as a conventional wide receiver before motioning into the backfield and serving as a tailback in a wide zone concept.
Since 2017 as the 49ers' run game coordinator, McDaniel has innovated, first shuffling a backfield to meet situational football and now mainstreaming the hybrid element. Now with the Dolphins, he finds himself in familiar territory, lacking a clear top running back and likely to use a situational approach. He has one player who matches the talent level of Samuel and provides experience working out of the backfield: Tyreek Hill.
But how much does it matter for fantasy football?
Samuel's 365 yards and eight rushing touchdowns added 84 points to his season total, approximately five additional points per game. And Samuel accomplished most of that in just eight games. Those five extra rushing points per game were the difference between placing WR3 and WR12 in PPR per game. The difference in standard is even more dramatic as Samuel (16.4), and Cooper Kupp (17.3) were the only receivers over 14 PPG. Samuel's touchdown rate is likely to regress, but even if Hill can add 200 yards on the ground and four touchdowns, those 2.5 rushing points would mean he would only need to score as a low-end WR2 through the passing game to deliver on his ADP as Underdog overall WR9.
One last point. A cynic would say, "but Samuel is 30 lbs heavier than Hill". Hill is the same size as Nyheim Hines, Curtis Samuel, and Eric Metcalf, players who have all excelled in both elements. Given his experience, athleticism, and body control, one can assume he knows how to take care of himself on an NFL field.
The Quarterback Question
Tua Tagovailoa is not Patrick Mahomes II. Many will stop their analysis at that point. But Hill is no longer functioning in an Andy Reid offense. This offense is Mike McDaniel's scheme, and last year McDaniel allowed Jimmy Garoppolo to support the overall WR3 in Samuel, overall TE4 in George Kittle, and Brandon Aiyuk, who started the year off in Kyle Shanahan's doghouse but finished as WR16 after week 8.
The numbers already bear an interesting parallel:
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