Prior to the NFL Combine Stephen Hill was projected to be drafted in the second or third round. After the combine, he went flying up draft boards and now is predicted to go somewhere at the end of the first round. Does this Junior Wide Receiver warrant a lofty first round selection or is he another workout warrior destined to bust?
Stephen Hill - WR - Georgia Tech
2012 NFL Combine Results
Height: 6'-4" Weight: 215 lbs.
The most obvious thing about Hill is he is an athletic freak. 6'-4" 215 humans should not be able to run a 4.36 40. Some scouts even clocked him at 4.28. Hill is a legitimate deep threat from day 1. He does an excellent job of catching the ball with his hands and will go up to catch it at its highest point, and he can get high. His vertical jump was more than 5" higher than A.J. Green's last year. He is a tenacious blocker, and selflessly did it for three years on a team who ran the triple option. While that didn't give him too many opportunities to catch the football, when he did, he made the most of it, as evidenced by his average of almost 30 yards per catch last season.
Watching a highlight reel on Hill you will notice that his college QB was not very accurate. Hill does a good job of adjusting to the football, and will come back for it. He battles DBs to make catches in traffic using his large frame to shield off defenders. He can easily go over the top of any defender. He also makes some spectacular one handed catches.
He is powerful running after the catch and often employs a punishing stiff arm to abuse defenders. I believe we all enjoyed watching another big, fast, GT receiver use a punishing stiff arm. Comparisons between the two players are appropriate.
From a variety of scouting reports, he's intelligent, hard working, and a great team player.
The most glaring weakness in Hill's game is that he was not required to run complex routes in college. However, many scouts and coaches were very impressed with the crisp and accurate routes he ran at the combine. He also has a reputation for dropping balls. He dropped about 5 balls last year and 2 in critical situations. Those are the sort of drops fans remember, which leads to a reputation. He's also not a quick receiver and lacks burst off the line. He has to build up to his top speed. He sometimes slows down when making cuts. He will have to learn how to read the defense and make route adjustments. Learning these skills is not uncommon for rookie receivers, but Hill will most likely have a steeper learning curve than most. The fact that he excelled at the combine, but has questions on the field is keeping him from being top 10 talent.
Why the Browns should draft him
One of the team's most glaring weaknesses in 2011 was an inability to stretch a defense. Teams constantly crowded the line of scrimmage and quickly stuffed runs or blew up the short passing game. While many people blame Colt McCoy's inability to throw deep, the fact is that we also don't have a legitimate deep threat receiver to scare anyone. While Hill might not be a polished #1 receiver in 2012, at the very worst he will put some fear of the deep ball into a defense and force them to account for him. Most likely we will draft Richardson or Blackmon first. If we take Richardson, and have no deep threat teams will keep 8 and 9 men in the box. If we go with Blackmon, he and Little will have a field day running the short and intermediate routes while Hill pulls the coverage away from them. Another reason to consider Hill is that our receivers are absolutely terrible blockers. I can't even remember how many times I saw us fail on a screen play because MoMass or Cribbs acted like the WR equivalent of Jon St. Clair. Screens are an undervalued play which slows the pass rush that we have not run well in years, partly because our WR blocking is so poor. Even though it may be a couple of years until Hill really becomes a dominant receiver we're not in a position to even challenge the division. We don't even know if we have a QB yet. May as well let him develop a year or two until we're truly ready to contend. Taking him at 22 is getting the ceiling of Megatron and the floor of Demaryus Thomas with a late first rounder.
Why the Browns should pass on him
The Browns have way too many holes to use a first round pick on a project WR. We already have one project receiver in Little and we need polished players who can come in and hit the ground running. He is the epitome of a boom or bust player, with the potential to be Carlton Mitchell, who can't get on the field, or Calvin Johnson, the best receiver in the league. The Browns cannot afford to take that risk. He won't be as effective in the WCO, especially with Colt at QB, because nobody is concerned about his ability to hit the deep ball. There are possibly better fits available later in the draft and we need to use the 22nd pick on a RB, RT or another position of need.