The 2011 New York Jets lacked many assets to make them a playoff team, as displayed by their .500 record. Among their several missing pieces was a big, playmaking, wide receiver that could stretch the field and open up the offense. Plaxico Burress fit the “big” bill, but having been over a full year removed from football, he lacked the speed to create any separation from defensive backs, and his presence hardly garnered any respect from opposing defenses. The Jets desperately needed to add a speedy, home run threat to their offense this offseason, and that may be just what they got in their 2nd round selection, wide receiver Stephen Hill.
Having come from Georgia Tech’s triple option offense, it is difficult to get a diverse sample of film on Hill to evaluate his receiving skills. In fact, during a 20 play stretch against Georgia last year, the Yellow Jackets ran the ball 18 times, while passing just twice. However, during that sample of plays, Hill was able to display his terrific blocking skills. What makes his blocking so effective is that he works his hands and feet tremendously. His hand placement is near perfect the majority of the time, complemented flawlessly by his ability to move his feet with the defender. Hill is also very aggressive and stronger at the point of attack than one might expect him to be. He blocks right until the whistle, and has shown he can crack down on toss sweeps, displaying some pancake blocks along the way.
As far as receiving skills go, from the small sample of plays that the offense did actually throw the ball last season, Hill stands out. He repeatedly showed the ability to blow by man coverage, and proved that he can adjust to the ball very well. The quarterback play at Georgia Tech last season was subpar at best, so there were many plays where Hill had to comeback for a ball or adjust his route to make the play. His speed can certainly hurt opposing defenses as well. Several times last year, Hill was able to take advantage of any cornerback that peeked into the backfield, blowing by the coverage, while the safety was usually one step too slow to make it over in time.
Hill also has very strong hands and does a good job of utilizing them to catch the ball. Of all the film I reviewed on him, not once did he catch a pass against his body. He can make the highlight reel plays too, as he displayed numerous amazing one handed catches last year, most notably the one against North Carolina.
Hill is excellent after the catch. Besides the obvious fact that he is extremely fast and agile, he is also much stronger than you would expect, and he proved to be very difficult to bring down. Hill has a very rare combination of size, speed, and physicality that could make him a nightmare for defenses as he develops down the road.
What is also appealing about Hill is that he seems to have a blue-collar mentality. Although he came from a run first offense, that didn’t necessarily utilize his skill set to the greatest extent, Hill showed no sign of moping around like a typical diva wide receiver that wasn’t getting the ball. Instead, he went out and continued to work on every play, whether that meant blocking or running routes. This speaks very well to his character, something this team needs, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
The biggest concern about Hill is how he will adjust from the triple option scheme to an NFL type offense. Although his route running is much better than I expected it to be, he still has a lot of work to do in this area, specifically on underneath routes, in order to ever be a true number one receiver. He also sometimes tends to focus on the run after the catch, before actually catching the ball, which caused for some drops last season.
Hill is a raw product. He has all the physical tools needed to make him an elite NFL wide receiver, but it will take him some time to develop. He clearly has tremendous upside, and the Jets offensive scheme will play to all of his strengths, which is going to make him an early contributor. He is big, strong, fast, and a great blocker, while he also has the ability to stretch the field and be the long home run threat that New York’s offense lacked in 2011. Hill will be able to create separation between the 20s due to his tremendous speed, while his height and jumping ability will make him a valuable red zone threat.
Hill and the Jets are seemingly a perfect fit for each other. With the offense that Tony Sparano is going to implement, a run heavy scheme with a desire for “chunk” plays, Hill is the ideal wide receiver. He should be able to block and stretch the field for the Jets right away, while working on developing a more balanced game for the future. Quarterback Mark Sanchez will likely enjoy having Hill in his weaponry because the former Georgia Tech product fits his skill set so well. Yesterday at Turn On The Jets, Joe Caporoso noted that one of Sanchez’s strongest points is his play action pass. Hill’s ability to stretch the field should prove to be a vital weapon on these play action passes as he will be able to take the top off of any defense and really open the offense up.
Editor’s Note – Physically, Stephen Hill has everything you would look for in a number one receiver. What is most encouraging is the mental attitude he brings along with the physical skills. It is not easy to be a wide receiver in a run heavy offense but Hill embraced it and blocks with a skill and tenacity that his highly admirable. He is coming into the perfect situation with the Jets. He is not ready to be a number one target because his route running is too raw, however with Santonio Holmes and Dustin Keller on board he doesn’t have to be. Hill will see favorable match-ups and be able to focus on being a deep threat this year and in time can develop into being this team’s number one receiver. I think five years from now, we will remember this as the “Stephen Hill draft.”