For opponents this season, defending Miami Dolphins receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle will be the ultimate pick your poison.
“On paper, it seems really cool,” new receivers coach Wes Welker said of the Dolphins pairing those two weapons together. “Those guys are full speed all the time. A lot of times you get guys that are 4.2 [seconds in the 40-yard dash] that know they’re 4.2 and don’t necessarily play 4.2.
[Hilll and Waddle] play 4.2, and they do it a lot. Every time they’re out there on the field, they’re going as hard as they can.”
And judging by the fear that Hill instills in opposing defenses and the respect he commands, Waddle stands to be the beneficiary.
Hill last season was third in the league in receptions with 111, seventh in yards with 1239 and ninth in touchdown receptions with nine.
Waddle was eighth in the league in receptions with 104, 25th in yards with 1015 and 25th in touchdown receptions with six.
NFL teams already are mulling how to defend Miami’s new electrifying tandem.
“That’s exactly what I thought,” Arizona coach Kliff Kingsbury told me when Miami acquired Hill. “They have two guys like that who can take the top off. That’s what I thought of. That’s going to be hard to deal with. That was huge when they landed Hill.”
Hill said this much is clear: “You can never double-team both speed guys. Waddle is definitely a threat. I’m excited to see it all, another fast guy who can run routes, basically do the same thing you can do.”
So what’s the best way for opposing teams to defend this dynamic duo? I posed the question to two NFL head coaches.
“Very carefully,” Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “You have to. Those are two great players and you have to really give it some thought.”
With Miami on the Ravens’ schedule in Week 2, Harbaugh was reluctant to go deeper than that.
Washington coach Ron Rivera said the team playing the Dolphins each week will first try to determine what to try to take away from each of the two players’ games.
“The biggest thing is depending on what [a defenses does], you’ve got to take away what they do best,” Rivera said. “If one of them is a better short route runner, and really excels on quick passes, you’ve got to be able to take that away.”
But here’s the problem: Hill excels on short and deep passes. Though many visualize Hill catching deep passes — and he does — most of his damage is done on short or intermediate throws that he converts into long gains.
Per PFF’s Ryan Smith, Hill was targeted on deep passes (20 or more yards downfield) just 17.9% of the time last season, which was 51st among all receivers and tight ends with at least 50 targets.
And per NBC’s Lawrence Jackson, 70.9% of Hill’s targets in 2021 were caught anywhere from 0 to 20 yards from the line of scrimmage; another 13.7% were caught behind the line of scrimmage.
Waddle wasn’t targeted deep much last year — he caught only four passes that traveled more than 20 air yards — but was an accomplished deep threat at Alabama. Waddle did most of his damage last season with short and intermediate routes, and yards after catch.
“Waddle is so explosive, it looks like he’s coming out of the box in a 100-meter race,” former Pro Bowl receiver Chad Johnson said.
Blitzing would be another option, but that’s fraught with danger. One thing is clear to Rivera:
“You’ve got to make sure that if you’re going to risk it [with single coverage on both Hill and Waddle], you’ve got to make sure you have somebody over the top,” Rivera said.
“You have to limit guys like that, that are explosive players. We played Kansas City last year and were able to do it for three quarters and eventually they’re going to make their plays. But if you can limit them as much as possible,” that helps.
Washington “limited” Hill to nine catches for 76 yards and a touchdown in that 31-13 Kansas City win.
A current NFL defensive coordinator, speaking on condition of anonymity, told me: “The [Dolphins will] get the Chiefs treatment to an extent. You’ve got to play one safety deep at minimum. But until Tua [Tagovailoa] proves he can beat you over the top, I’m not sure you need to play two safeties deep [a lot].
“A lot depends on if you can manage the run game. If you can, you can play two safeties [deep] more if you need to.
“You would blitz [Patrick] Mahomes now and then, but you couldn’t do that a lot because he’s so good. If Tua can’t handle the blitzes, you would see teams do it more than they did against Mahomes. With Tua, it will be show us what you can do.
“But there’s no question they’ve put the weapons around him to succeed. [Chase] Edmonds and [Raheem] Mostert, that’s a good pairing. And Cedrick Wilson [Jr.] is a good player; you can’t overlook him.”
Keep in mind that last season, on third down, Hill had 28 receptions that resulted in first downs — second most in the league.
On third down, Waddle had 23 receptions that resulted in first downs — tied for sixth most in the league.
Hill is eager to see what they can accomplish together. He said teams will not be able to double cover both of them.
“He’s a fiery competitor just like I am,” Hill said. “A lot of guys — they get bad knocks for not being a beast, not being able to do certain things, not being able to run certain routes, not being able to go in and like, knock a linebacker on his butt. He’s just like I was coming out — a young guy who wants to compete, who loves the game and just wants to get better.”
Several NFL head coaches — the Rams’ Sean McVay, the 49ers’ Kyle Shanahan — said they’re eager to see what Dolphins first-year head coach Mike McDaniel can do with that receiver duo.
“That is a huge challenge with those two,” Rivera said.
The Dolphins waived former Arizona quarterback Chris Streveler to make room on the 90-man roster for edge rusher Melvin Ingram.
Steveler, signed earlier this offseason, has appeared in seven NFL games for the Cardinals. His departure leaves three QBs on the roster: Tagovailoa, Teddy Bridgewater and rookie seventh-round pick Skylar Thompson.