Throughout the off-season we will step into the film room and provide a closer look at various players on the New York Jets roster. If there is a player in particular you’d like to see a review on, leave a note in the comment section or shoot us a Tweet with the hashtag #TOJFilmRoom
The New York Jets spent a 2nd round pick on wide receiver Stephen Hill in the 2012 NFL Draft. Possessing an elite combination of size (6-4, 215 pounds) and speed (4.36 forty time), Hill has immense physical potential as a NFL wide receiver but there were a few concerning things about him coming out of Georgia Tech.
Hill played in a triple option offense and was asked to run a limited number of routes in college. There was very little evidence of him being able to successfully convert his route-running to the next level, as it lacked precision and physicality. He also showed inconsistency catching the football. When speaking with a current NFL GM last off-season about Hill, he said “the physical talents are impossible to ignore but there were large stretches of time in college where he looked completely clueless out on the field. He will not be ready to be an immediate starter in this league.”
Sure enough the Jets made Hill an immediate starter and despite him making them look very smart with a huge week 1 performance (5 catches, 89 yards, 2 touchdowns), on the whole he had a very disappointing rookie campaign, struggling with both injuries and many of his anticipated shortcomings coming out of college.
Hill only played in 11 games last season, and in three of those he played an extremely limited role due to injuries. He played in 412 offensive snaps last season, only 38% of the Jets total. He struggled to run sharp routes, was too easily pushed around by physical cornerbacks, didn’t regularly work back to the football and demonstrated poor technique when attempting to catch the football, which led to frequent drops. There is a general lack of fluidity to his overall game. The physical talent Hill has is undeniable, as he still managed to get himself open in many circumstances despite his poor route-running. His effort level is consistently high and he did show signs of progress as the season went on, although in order to compensate for his drops, he began going to the ground to make catches when it was unnecessary.
Let’s take a closer look.
Everybody noticed Hill’s struggles catching the ball last year and they stem from poor hand placement. Look how far apart his hands are on this dropped pass against the St. Louis Rams. He raises them too late and fails to have his fingers from one hand touching the other when he brings them up. This is day one stuff for high school wide receivers and something Hill can only improve through repetitions and muscle memory.
On a deep ball that he dropped against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Hill again showed awkward hand placement when attacking the football in the air. He isn’t square, doesn’t keep his hands parallel and actually seems to twist his lead arm backwards and away from the ball. These are unusual habits to see from a professional receiver but again speak to Hill simply being very raw and just not catching that many balls in college. Hopefully, he is living on the juggs machine this off-season.
On the same play that Hill dropped this pass, we get a look into his lack of precision on routes, inexperience and also his freakish level of speed. He was supposed to run a deep post-corner route here on a play the Jets were looking to take a home-run shot on. It is somewhat poorly illustrated by Phil Simms (who drew that yellow line, not me) but Hill needs to drive up the field, take two hard steps to the post, then plant hard and break on a 45 degree angle to the corner route. While the bottom picture doesn’t make it blatantly apparent, Hill doesn’t sell the post at all and rounds off his route substantially, basically running a banana instead of a post-corner. Yet, he is so fast that he still able to get behind the safety to put himself in position to catch what should have been a touchdown (but was instead dropped by him).
New offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg is probably salivating at plays like that, knowing the physical ability is there for Hill to be a big play-threat but that he needs to be coached up on the finer points of his position.
Hill allowed cornerbacks to get their hands on him immediately when he released off the line. The Jets didn’t give him many routes to work with last year but they would frequently use him on comeback routes or deep hitch routes, hoping corners would bail due to his speed. Yet, as you see below (bottom of screen) he is immediately getting widened to the sideline and moved off his mark by the corner. On this play, he was unable to create any separation and provided no window for the quarterback to throw into.
In the image below, Hill is running a speed out (another route he was commonly used on), yet he sits on the ball coming to him instead of working back to it. On this particular play, it allowed the corner to break on the ball and knock it away. After the play, Hill complained to the official looking for pass interference (a bad habit he formed his rookie year, likely learned from Santonio Holmes) but there was no interference, just a bad job by Hill not working back to the ball.
There remains reason for optimism for Hill this season. As previously mentioned, there is no questioning his talent and he did show signs of improvement in the final few games he played in 2012. He has a high motor on the field, as he was constantly flying around for his blocking assignments and ran tough after the catch when given a chance. His issues are fixable but not without extensive work and repetition on running routes and catching passes. By all accounts, Hill is a hard worker so there should be strides this season.
It will likely be best to start Hill as a situational player and gradually increase his role as the season goes on. Santonio Holmes and Jeremy Kerley are both much better and more complete receivers at this point but Hill brings a deep threat and size that both lack. Considering how thin the Jets are at receiver, Hill won’t be at a loss for opportunities to make plays…particularly down the field.