Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill calls himself “The Cheetah.”
No one else in the NFL could say that with a straight face.
“Special, special, special speed,” Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack said.
NFL Next Gen Stats began tracking the league’s fastest ball carriers in 2016. That year, Hill ran 23.24 mph and 22.77 mph on plays 10 weeks apart. No one in the league has topped either mark since.
“It’s a different speed,” said Bears coach Matt Nagy, who coached Hill in 2016-17. “There’s no one in the NFL that has that speed. They might think they have that speed, but they don’t.”
Not the Bears’ Tarik Cohen or Taylor Gabriel or any of the NFL’s other speed demons.
Hill will test safeties Eddie Jackson and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix all night Sunday.
“Not just our safeties — a lot of safeties,” Nagy said. “He can fly. Every team knows that. Every defense knows it. We’re well aware of that.”
Hill comes to town at a unique time for the Bears’ two starting safeties. Jackson is trying to justify his Pro Bowl berth, which was announced this week, despite having only one interception all season. Clinton-Dix, a pending free agent, has two games left to prove he’s worthy of the lengthy contract that eluded him last offseason.
The Chiefs average 28.1 points per game, fourth-most in the NFL and the most of any team the Bears have played this season. In their last home game, the Bears shut down the Cowboys, who still lead the NFL with 434 yards per game.
Sunday’s game will have more at stake symbolically. The safeties will be the last line of defense against quarterback Patrick Mahomes poster-izing the Bears on national television — and rubbing his 2017 draft selection in the noses of every Bears fan still upset the Bears traded up to draft Mitch Trubisky instead.
“He’s like a fighter,” Mack said of Mahomes. “You see it on the film. He’s breaking tackles and throwing the ball down the field. You can tell he keeps his eyes down the field.”
Mahomes often looks for Hill when he does. Hill is only 5-10, 185 pounds, but he manages to play even bigger.
“He’s his own type of player,” Bears slot cornerback Buster Skrine said. “He can jump, too, being a smaller guy.”
Hill, who was named to his fourth Pro Bowl in as many seasons, is one reason Mahomes makes running the Chiefs’ offense look so easy.
“Knowing his speed — knowing he’s a vertical threat, guys kind of get scared and give that space and back up,” Jackson said. “So a lot of stuff comes open underneath.”
Tight end Travis Kelce was a stud before the Chiefs ever signed Hill, but the two have proven a deadly combination. With safeties worried about Hill going deep, Kelce is able to work freely in the slot and the middle of the field. This season, he’s seventh in the league — and tops among tight ends — with 1,131 receiving yards.
“It stresses the defense,” Skrine said. “It definitely keeps your safety back. You can’t be as aggressive as a safety. It stresses your defense. It gives people opportunities underneath to get a one-on-one matchup.”
Or they go deep.
Hill’s longest catch of the season this year is a 57-yard touchdown pass. The Bears’ longest is a 53-yarder by Gabriel.
Hill has five catches of 40-plus yards. The entire Bears team has two.
That’s some speed.
“Maybe 2.0 DeSean Jackson,” Clinton-Dix said, looking for a comparison. “They call him ‘Cheetah’ for a reason. He’s explosive when he gets the ball in his hands. We just have to be physical, man, and get him on the ground as soon as possible. We’ve got to do our best to contain this guy.”