Georgia Tech has done it again, producing a potentially game-breaking freak of nature at the wide receiver position. First it was Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions, then Demaryius Thomas of the Denver Broncos and now Stephen Hill.
Like Johnson and Thomas, Hill is physical specimen checking in at 6'3 6/8" and 215 pounds while also running a blazing 4.36 40-yard dash but do these physical skills alone make him a quality receiver?
The answer is no because there are several other skills that wide receivers need to have to win matchups at the next level. These skills include but are not limited to route running, body control and most importantly, catching the ball. Join me as I delve into the tape of Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill.
Scheme is always important, even when grading wide receivers, and the one that Hill comes out of is a bit unusual for a potential top pass-catching prospect. The University of Georgia Tech runs an option-based offense that primarily asks the receiver to block for the ball carrier because they run a significant amount of the time.
Although this is the case, Hill has still caught passes and has run several routes, some of which had him reading the leverage of the defender and running his pattern based off of it. He caught 28 passes last season at an eye-popping 29 yards per catch and although some of these were caught downfield because of blown coverage, he still did run several pass patterns that enabled him to get open.
Hill's route running has proven to be raw mainly because of the scheme he's operating out of. He's simply not running the amount of routes that others are and that's why some are knocking him.
However, he has run routes such as Dig, Post, Hook, Out, Arrow (flat) and Corner patterns that he'll be asked to also run at the next level. He still has a lot of learning to do in this aspect of his game because he doesn't have the details of it down yet.
Despite this, he's going to the NFL where professional coaches will have more time to teach him and it will be his main focus.
The ability to separate from defenders when running routes is key at every level of football, but perhaps none more than at the NFL level because defenders are just as fast and quick. Although the scheme and route running that Hill has had to do in college is limited, there are instances in which his ability to break down is showcased as well as his ability to separate from defenders vertically.
He shows that he can get vertical on defensive backs and create enough separation to catch the ball. On short and intermediate routes, he shows that he can break down his route within two or three steps, sink his hips and get open. Examples of this can be seen on Hook routes.
Tracking the Ball
Other than his hands, which we'll cover later, Hill's body control may be his greatest strength as he does an excellent job of tracking the football when it is in the air. He has shown on multiple occasions that he has quality body control.
Due to Georgia Tech's option football scheme, the defense was often sitting back and reading the backfield action prior to attacking downhill or in a defensive backs case, dropping in reverse and running with their assignment.
Furthermore, because of the scheme and the way defenses play it, Thomas did not get tested much at the line of scrimmage, thus often having a free release. This is an area in which he'll clearly need to improve at the next level.
Yards After Catch
The lack of a quality passer and previously mentioned scheme have somewhat prevented Hill from showcasing his yards after the catch ability; however, there have been instances in which he has shown it off and done well.
He has long arms, quick feet, overall speed and good strength that enables him to pick up yards after the catch as seen on deep passes as well as short ones such as screens.
If a receiver can't catch, what good is he?
Fortunately for Stephen Hill of Georgia Tech, he won't be moved to defensive back any time soon because he actually can catch the ball. Hill shows good concentration and focus when a pass is coming in his direction and this shows in two areas: hands and body catching.
In the former area, Hill shows the ability to catch the ball away from his body and purely with his hands. This is something that is desired in all pass-catchers but they do not always possess it. In the latter area, there are certain situations in which a pass-catcher will have to run under a pass and catch it into his body by letting it hit him and then trapping it, which Hill also does well.
In conclusion, Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill is one of the fastest rising prospects because of his playmaking ability and outstanding performance at the NFL Combine.
While he has weaknesses in his game, it's important to find his strengths and what he can do for a team. What Hill brings to a team is an athlete with great stature, physicality and playmaking ability. These three characteristics of his game are going to be the ones that raise his stock in the eyes of NFL personnel men and ultimately convince them to take him high in the draft, such as in late Round 1 or early Round 2.