Risk too great for Hill to return kicks

In a previous NFL life, Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill was one of the league's top kickoff returners. Then he became too valuable from scrimmage to risk an injury while playing on special teams.

But with the NFL's new kickoff rules, which are designed to reduce injury risk by reducing high-speed collisions, using Hill on kickoff returns becomes a more viable option.

The question is, do the Dolphins think it's a worthwhile risk?

It's not an easy answer.

I don't think I'd do it.

Hill, who averages 27.4 yards per kickoff return for his career, could get three or four more touches per game as a full-time kickoff returner.

Considering it's Hill, who was once a Pro Bowl kickoff returner, that's three or four more opportunities for an instant touchdown. It's also three or four more opportunities for a big play and great field position.

Another benefit of Hill returning kickoffs is that he'd field the ball in open space, with plenty of room to use his instincts, quickness and speed.

And when the Dolphins win the pre-game coin toss and defer, Hill could field the third-quarter kickoff that starts what coaches regard as one of the most important possessions of the game, the first possession of the second half.

Don't worry. Hill can take the extra hits.

Physically, Hill is a tank.

He's well-muscled, he's a workout freak, and if he stays hydrated, it's tough to keep him off the field.

The only ailment that significantly slowed him last season is the combination hip drop/horsecollar tackle he sustained against Tennessee.

Hill, who had the best receiving season in franchise history with 119 receptions for 1,799 yards and 13 touchdowns, was never the same afterward.

Neither was the Dolphins' offense.

Nor their season.

And that's really what's at stake with Hill returning kickoffs.

Another (freak) injury.

Another season of delayed gratification, with no guarantee of ultimate gratification.

That's the reason the Dolphins wouldn't put Hill deep on kickoff returns.

You could argue the risk/reward hardly seems worthwhile.

What's the best that would realistically happen with Hill returning kickoffs for the entire season?

One touchdown, and maybe 7 or 8 more yards per game, on average, above the next best returnman. (Braxton Berrios?)

Last season Berrios led the team with 18 kickoff returns, slightly more than one per game. He averaged 24.5 yards per return. That was sixth in the league among players with 15 or more kickoff returns.

Hill's career average is 2.9 yards more per return than what Berrios averaged.

Is that worth risking an injury that could seriously derail your season?

You could argue Hill gets enough big-play opportunities through the course of a game.

Beyond that, the big picture idea is having Hill healthy for the playoffs.

Yes, every possession of every game counts in the race to get a home playoff game, or even the No. 1 seed in the AFC. That's a huge issue.

The Dolphins must decide how much they're willing to sacrifice in the battle for every yard of field position in every game.

The Dolphins have kickoff return options aside from Hill.


Speedy running back Raheem Mostert, who handled those duties in 2022.

Speedy wide receiver Jaylen Waddle,

Speedy running back De'Von Achane.

For a team that's been hit hard by injuries to key players in the two-season Mike McDaniel era -- quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, edge rushers Bradley Chubb and Jaelan Phillips, left tackle Terron Armstead, right tackle Austin Jackson, center Connor Williams, cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey, Xavien Howard and Byron Jones, to name a few -- the smart play is protecting your key players as much as is reasonably possible.

You know what I think about Hill. I've said he's the Most Important Player on the Dolphins.

We can all agree he's the No. 1 threat for an offensive-minded team that's trying to make some noise in the playoffs.

To me, the same reason to use Hill on kickoff returns -- every yard counts, every possession counts, every game counts as Miami tries to get a home playoff game -- is the reason not to use him on kickoff returns.

To my way of thinking, each game is so important that you can't afford to play a single game without Hill.

The Dolphins' offense goes nowhere without Hill.

The Dolphins' season goes nowhere without Hill.

At this point, even with kickoffs projected to have a lower injury rate, I wouldn't put Hill on kickoff returns.

The injury risk outweighs gaining a few yards per game.

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