As we prepare for training camp and the preseason draws near over the next couple of months, a lot of attention will be paid to the numerous roster battles going on. One of the more contested battles is taking place at the wide receiver position.
Eric Decker will start at one of the wide receiver positions, that much we know. While Jeremy Kerley can be a productive wide receiver lined up on the outside, he’s much more of a mismatch in the slot where he can be matched up with linebackers and nickel cornerbacks. Jalen Saunders will most likely be utilized in the slot as well. In fact, it is because of Saunders’s ability in the slot, coupled with Kerley’s play on the outside, that Kerley may start opposite Decker.
However, if he does not then that battle will be between David Nelson, rookie Shaq Evans, and third year WR Stephen Hill. Evans is intriguing (we will be doing a breakdown of him in the coming weeks), Nelson developed a nice rapport with Geno Smith last year and is being underrated by some. Then, there’s 84.
The name “Stephen Hill” leads to much groaning amongst Jets fans and rightfully so. Hill has been a tease his entire career in Jets green thus far as he has only had good games against the Buffalo Bills. Think about this: If Stephen Hill played against the Bills every game, his season totals would be 96 receptions, 1560 yards, and 24 touchdowns. Sadly, the Jets don’t play the Bills 16 times.
A productive Stephen Hill would open up the offense much more for second year quarterback Geno Smith and would force teams to think twice about rolling coverage to Decker. Hill has shown lapses in concentration, an inability (or unwillingless) to go up and fight defensive backs for the ball and has committed some brutal mistakes in key situations (the drop in New England comes to mind).
However, he has made some big plays as well; the sideline catch against Pittsburgh where Ryan Clark blasted him out of bounds was a highlight from last year as Hill demonstrated good focus and great awareness to get his two feet in bounds. It is plays like this that demonstrate the talent Hill has. He is also, 6’4”, 215 pounds and runs a sub 4.4 forty yard dash.
For the record, I actually think Hill ends up starting opposite Decker and putting together a good year for the Jets. The third year for a wide receiver is usually when you find out whether he has it or he doesn’t. Let’s take a look at how other wide receivers have done in their third years. Eric Decker’s are his combined stats for his first two seasons, while the other examples are the averages for the first two seasons.
First Two Seasons: 50 REC, 718 YDS, 9 TDs (combined)
Year 3: 85 REC, 1064 YDS, 13 TDs
First Two Seasons: 54 REC, 744 YDS, 7 TDs
Year 3: 92 REC, 1382 YDS, 12 TDs
First Two Seasons: 47 REC, 698 YDS, 5 TDs
Year 3: 80 REC, 1289 YDS, 16 TDs
First Two Seasons: 23 REC, 268 YDS, 4 TDs
Year 3: 83 REC, 1312 YDS, 8 TDs
First Two Seasons: 27 REC, 417 YDS, 3 TDs
Year 3: 94 REC, 1434 YDS, 10 TDs
The last 3 examples I cited (Edwards, Rice, Thomas) are the ones to pay attention to because their measurables are similar to Stephen Hill’s. All three are tall, possess long strides when running routes, and had similar issues with drops during their first two seasons.
Also, much like Hill, Thomas came from the triple-option offense at Georgia Tech. Hill was as raw entering the league as Thomas. Thomas seems to have figured it out in Year 3 and is now one of the better WRs in the NFL. The hope is that Hill can do the same.
There is one thing that needs to be pointed out as well. All 3 WRs that I mentioned above improved their production with improved QB play. Braylon’s breakout season coincided with Derek Anderson’s Pro Bowl season, Sidney Rice’s breakout season went hand in hand with the arrival of future Hall of Famer Brett Favre, and Thomas broke out once Peyton Manning arrived in Denver.
Geno struggled mightily through the middle part of his rookie season, but ended the season on a high note. Geno appeared to lose confidence in Hill as the season went on last year. If they can establish that trust and Geno plays an entire season the way he played during the last four games, then Stephen Hill will have more of an opportunity to break out like these receivers mentioned.
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