It is impossible not to be excited about the potential of rookie wide receiver Stephen Hill. You don’t see an endless line of receivers who stand 6 foot 4, 215 pounds and still manage to run a 4.31 forty. The guy averaged over 29 yards per catch last season and is coming to an offense that couldn’t buy a 20 yard play last year. Yet, as the recent history of second round receivers shows, it might be wise to temper that excitement, especially when combined with the reality that Hill played in a triple-option offense and only caught 49 passes in 3 years at Georgia Tech.
Considering where he was selected, Hill is going to enter training camp as the de facto starter opposite Santonio Holmes at wide receiver. His size and speed has to be respected, despite being an unproven player and that will open up things underneath for Holmes and Dustin Keller.
But how can the Jets get the most out of him in his rookie season?
First off, despite being a “starter” don’t expect Hill to immediately play 65 snaps a game. There is going to be situations where Dustin Keller, Jeremy Kerley and Chaz Schilens are taking reps for certain plays in his spot and that is okay. Hill should gradually build up to a full workload as he masters the offense and every route in the playbook. It is unreasonable to expect a player out of a triple option to be polished on all the necessary routes.
Out of the gate, Hill is going to be a frequent target when the Jets look to get those “chunk” plays Tony Sparano has talked about. Mark Sanchez has shown an ability to throw the deep play action post well and Sparano won’t hesitate to call it. We know at a minimum Hill has the ability to run that and the “go” route.
Considering Sanchez’s comfort with the slant route and Hill’s frame, I’d look for him to be running a good amount of those early as well. He also has the speed to be utilized on a smoke screen where he can try to shake his defender 1 on 1. Look for the Jets to build Hill’s confidence early in the season by getting him a few easy receptions and then taking their downfield shots to him, particularly off the play action.
Hill is also a logical primary target in the red-zone. Mark Sanchez had excellent chemistry with Plaxico Burress inside the 10 yard line last season and there is no reason he can’t replicate that with Hill. You can bet if the Jets are turning to the “fade” ball, it will be Hill on the receiving end.
Overall, it would be illogical to expect high reception totals from Hill in this offense in 2012. At a minimum, he will be the third most frequent target behind Holmes and Keller. However, that doesn’t mean he can’t rack up a high yards per catch and pull in 6-8 touchdowns. The Jets would be wise to start him out as primarily as a deep threat and then gradually increase his reps as the season goes on with the hope of him starting to resemble a complete receiver by December.