Somebody pinch me because I must be dreaming, April has come at last! Are you guys as excited as I am?
For the next few weeks leading up to draft day I am going to breakdown a player a day that I believe the Ravens should/will target. Today I am tackling project WR Stephen Hill.
Stephen Hill was a borderline 2nd round player in early February. Then the combine happened. I’m sure you have heard of him now. After posting an unofficial 4.30 40 time(4.38 official) and a tremendous set of positional drills his stock has skyrocketed to the point where he likely wont be around when the Ravens pick at 29. Considering the Ravens need of a 3rd WR, coupled with the fact that Anquan Boldins best years are behind him and his contract is up in a couple years, Hill would be a valuable piece for the Ravens in the coming years.
What He Does Well
Stephen Hill is one of the most difficult WR evaluations I’ve ever done. The problem with Hill is that the Georgia Tech offense almost never throws the ball. An argument can be made that Hill was easily the most productive receiver on the team, but in doing so he only needed 28 receptions. You can look at the film of Hill and marvel at the separation he achieves, but upon closer inspection I believe that his separation has more to do with the Georgia Tech run game than it does with his ability. Hill has some things that can be seen easily. His size is the first thing, he is 6’4” 220 lbs and he plays like he is about 8’ tall. There is no pass that Hill cant go up and get(39.5” vertical leap), factoring in Hills arm length, height and vertical leap Hill has the ability to get to balls that are as high as 12’ of the ground. Hill has excellent hands. Truly amongst the best pure catchers in the draft, he rarely body catches and I have never seen him double clutch a ball. He has huge hands which helps him to catch the ball like he does. Hill is fast. Really fast. He doesn’t play at 4.3, but he easily plays at a 4.45 range. Once he gets the ball in his hands and gets behind a defense he is near uncatchable. Hill is also an excellent blocker, probably the best blocking WR in the draft. He blocked on most plays at GT so he has tons of experience and at 6’5” 220lbs he towers over most corners making blocking assignments easy for him. He has great awareness of the ball while it is in flight and is almost always in position to make the catch.
Where He Needs Improvement
Where to start, where to start? Hill is extremely Raw. He really only ran three routes(post, streak and slant) at GT. He is solid on those routes but on the occasional times when I saw him run an unfamiliar route he was extremely sloppy and tended to round of the cuts making the route much slower and less effective. He struggles slightly when defenders really crowd him at the line of scrimmage and doesn’t seem particularly adept at finding soft spots against zone coverages. He doesn’t play as fast as he runs which I find a bit confusing since he was essentially used as a deep threat only player in the GT offense. Players that run 9 routes(streaks) every other play should be able to run them at full speed. He can be easily disrupted at the line of scrimmage at times by physical defenders and end up getting forced out of a play.
How I see it
On the first play of the video Hill runs a decent out route and makes a catch for about an 8 yard gain. But you can probably see the reason it is so hard to evaluate him already. No one covered him and both the corner and safety on his side of the field hesitated to watch for the run. It was a nice play by Hill but all he really had to do was catch the ball, to easy.
The Second play might be the best play of the college football season last year. Hill demonstrates the elite leaping ability I referred to earlier. That ball is easily 10’ off the ground at the point where he catches it. Again though, they ran play action and the entire defense bit on it and Hill was wide open to make the catch(on a terrible throw).
The next play is another example of this enigma. Hill gets great separation at the line, cuts just a tiny bit to the outside and streaks down the field for a long TD…except the defense wan no where to be seen after another hard bite on a play action fake.
The next play(at the 1:08 mark) id probably his best play of the day. He is just running a simple 9 route and despite playing him about 9 yards off the line of scrimmage his defender is almost immediately overwhelmed by Hills speed and gets beat very quickly. This should have been an easy TD but a bad(late) throw forces hill to readjust to the ball in the air and come back to make the catch. His defender is so afraid of Hills speed that he fails to break up the pass despite having great position on tha ball because he never turned his head back around out of fear of losing track of Hill. He pushed off a bit but because the defender never turned his head Hill gets away with it. Great play by Hill.
On the next play Hill gets bailed out a bit by his QB. Hill is running either a nine or a very skinny post(or he deviated from his intended route). He breaks into open space and instead of sitting down on the soft zone he found, he continues to sprint forward right into the safety. Thankfully his QB was paying better attention than Hill was and threw a short pass to force hill to slow down and allowed him to make a catch rather than an INT or pass breakup. It looks like a good play by Hill, but it was a play in which he was bailed out by his QB.
On the next play Hill runs a quick little screen play and then demonstrates his YAC(yards after catch) ability. He gets an extra 3-4 yards with 2 defenders hanging off of him. Pretty fun play to watch. This is another thing that Hill brings to the table, he gets extra yardage on the screen because his corner is playing so far off the line because of Hills speed.
The next play is not a good one, not only does Hill drop a sure TD but he twisted his ankle in the process. He just gets a bit over excited and whiffs the play. Not a huge red flag though because these things tend to happen quite a bit(remember Torrey Smiths TD drop against the Steelers?) this was his last play of the game.
Hill is a bit of a project so he isn’t really a fit for any team that needs an immediate starter at the position. Luckily the Ravens are set for starters and just need a situational guy to be the third WR. This is going to be an unpopular thing to talk about but it needs to be said. Anquan Boldin isn’t going to last forever. I love Boldin as much as anyone (he was my favorite non-raven in the league for years) but the reality is that unless the Ravens can get him for cheap, he isn’t likely to be resigned after his contract expires in 2014(2 seasons including this year). The Ravens have a long history of drafting replacements for players several years in advance and Hill could be the eventual replacement for Boldin and give the Ravens a fierce WR group with Boldin, Hill and Smith. Hill would be an excellent selection at 29 for the Ravens if he lasts that long.
Pro Player Comparison: Randy Moss, WR, San Francisco 49ers
He is similar to Moss because of his size speed combination and the fact that neither is a particularly great route runner. It is a bit of a forced comparison but when looking for a 6’5” WR with 4.3 speed the options are pretty limited.