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Tyreek Hill’s impact on the Dolphins underscores the importance of elite wide receivers

Tyreek Hill is threatening the NFL's single-season receiving yards record for the resurgent Dolphins.Quinn Harris/Getty

Miami Dolphins running back Jeff Wilson Jr. mostly practices wide receiver drills during his offseasons, partly because running back drills are second nature to him, but also because he understands the importance of being a pass catcher in today’s NFL.

“I remember one point in time, it was a running back league,” Wilson said. “Even growing up, around when Adrian Peterson was in the league, you would have three or four every year come out, a running back, in the first round. But the game has changed. Quarterbacks have changed. Speed has changed.”

Wide receiver value has soared in the past decade with rule changes that favor offense, unprecedented levels of talent and speed, and teams using receivers in different areas of the run game and pass protection.

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“With the amount of talent at the quarterback position in this league, where guys can place the ball down the field in really tight windows, there is no coverage or defensive philosophy or matchup that can replicate having an elite player at that position,” Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said.

Few teams understand that better than the Dolphins, whose offseason acquisition of Tyreek Hill has been a massive part of their success.

Miami has the NFL’s No. 2 passing offense and sixth-best scoring offense thanks largely to the nearly unstoppable connection between Hill and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

Entering Sunday’s game against San Francisco, Hill leads the league in yards receiving (1,233) and trails only Buffalo’s Stefon Diggs with 87 receptions.

Hill reached 1,104 yards receiving in Week 9, the most by an NFL player in a team’s first nine games in the Super Bowl era. He could be the first NFL player to surpass 2,000 receiving yards in a single season and break Calvin Johnson’s single-season record (1,964), set over 16 games in 2012.

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“Every play he’s in the game, you’d be hard-pressed to think that in a majority of those, the defensive coordinator would be calling the exact same call if he didn’t exist,” McDaniel said.

Jackson apologizes for tweet

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson apologized for his vulgar tweet following Baltimore’s loss last weekend, saying he was angry and reacted.

Jackson hadn’t been made available since the situation Sunday.

“I was just reacting at the time. I was mad. I wasn’t thinking about actions,” he said. “It was like, bitter. I was bitter. I feel like you should be bitter after a loss, though. No smiles. In fact, the fans should be mad we lost too, but not mad at us. We tried. But it happened. I apologize, if I hurt feelings out there.”

After the Ravens lost, 28-27, to Jacksonville, a fan suggested Baltimore should let Jackson leave via free agency. Jackson responded in a tweet that was later deleted, saying the person “never smelt a football field” and using vulgar language that members of the LBGTQ+ community said was offensive.

Top two picks face off

Travon Walker and Aidan Hutchinson will always be compared to one another. Same class. Same position. Same lofty expectations.

The top two picks in the 2022 NFL draft will be on the same field for the first time as pros when Detroit hosts Jacksonville on Sunday, a matchup of 4-7 teams that won a combined five games in November and are clinging to slim playoff hopes.

It’s the second game in less than a year that features Walker and Hutchinson, both defensive ends, on opposite sidelines. They played in the College Football Playoff last December, with Walker’s Georgia team defeating Michigan, 34-11, in the Orange Bowl.

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“I’d definitely like to exchange jerseys with Aidan,” said Walker, who has 39 tackles and 2½ sacks after being selected No. 1 by Jacksonville. Hutchinson, the No. 2 selection by Detroit, has 31 tackles and 5½ sacks.

Panthers owner faces probe

Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper and his real estate company are the focus of a criminal investigation to see if they misused any public money in their failed effort to build a practice facility for the team in South Carolina.

The York County Sheriff’s Office said state agents and local prosecutors are aiding its investigation, and that the probe does not mean that any crime happened.

“An investigation is simply an inquiry and should not create any inference that wrongdoing has been committed by any party,” York County sheriff Kevin Tolson and solicitor Kevin Brackett said in a joint statement that named Tepper and GT Real Estate, the company created to oversee the construction project.

Tepper’s company denied any criminal wrongdoing and suggested the timing of the announcement might be meant to disrupt a settlement the team reached with York County to repay more than $21 million, an amount roughly equivalent to the sales tax money the project received to improve roads around the facility.

Injury rundown

Packers offensive tackle David Bakhtiari underwent an appendectomy and won’t play Sunday . . . Pittsburgh running back Najee Harris expects to play Sunday when the Steelers travel to Atlanta. Harris practiced Friday for the first time since injuring his abdomen late in the first half of a 24-17 victory over Indianapolis on Monday night . . . The Jets are unlikely to have top running back Michael Carter against the Vikings on Sunday. Carter was listed Friday as doubtful after not practicing all week because of a sprained lower left ankle.

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