The New York Jets were desperate for a wide receiver who possessed game-changing speed in the 2012 NFL draft, prompting former general manager Mike Tannenbaum to pull the trigger on Stephen Hill, a Georgia Tech product who recorded just 49 receptions in three seasons at the FBS level.
The Jets thought the addition of Hill would add a certain dynamism that had been void from their offense during the two seasons in which they reached the AFC title game. New York was coming off an ugly 8-8 campaign, much unlike their surprising run at the same mark in 2013.
According to NFL.com, Hill unofficially tied Miami's Travis Benjamin and Stanford's Chris Owusu for the fastest 40-yard dash time among all wide receivers at the 2012 combine, clocking 4.36 seconds. That was good enough for the Jets to take a flier on Hill in the second round of the draft. It should be noted that New York opted to select Hill two picks ahead of the Chicago Bears drafting Pro Bowler Alshon Jeffery.
The Jets are ultimately suffering from that decision, despite reporters frequently boasting about how solid Hill looks in practice each offseason. The tweets and feel-good "he's on the rise" stories that surface atop Jets media on an annual basis are nothing more than instances of wishful thinking. Hill just isn't talented enough to make an impact on an NFL roster.
Draft gurus at NFL.com dubbed Hill a track star who looks awkward on the football field in 2012. He seemingly recorded as many drops as big plays at the collegiate level, a lethal flaw that has unfortunately translated to the next level.
His glaring inability to find open space and read downfield coverage isn't suddenly going to disappear in the upcoming season. Hill might look impressive in training camp, but it's highly doubtful that he'll ever succeed on a week-to-week basis in the NFL.
The Jets won't label Hill a draft bust just yet, even though he appears headed in that direction. The 2014 campaign is a make-or-break season for Hill, who will likely be granted an outright release at the conclusion of the league year if he's unable to satisfy marginal expectations. At the moment, Hill is projected to be the Jets' No. 2 receiver, a role that he hasn't earned, nor deserves.
General manager John Idzik improved the Jets' anemic receiving corps over the offseason, but it remains one of the most defunct units in the league. In 2013, the Jets owned the worst receiving offense in the NFL, averaging 204.4 receiving yards per game.
Free-agent acquisition Eric Decker and rookies Jalen Saunders and Shaq Evans will ideally have a positive impact on that statistic in 2014, but it's hard to imagine Hill suddenly becoming the type of weapon the Jets envisioned when drafting him.
Hill averaged 29.3 yards per reception to lead all receivers at the FBS level in 2012. His speed is an undeniable asset, but his inability to get off the block at the line of scrimmage often prevents him from gaining separation downfield.
Hill's lack of physicality off the snap has plagued him throughout the first two years of his professional career. He's often neutralized before the play develops, limiting the quarterback's options.
Hill has registered one 100-yard receiving game in 23 contests through two seasons. It happened in Week 3 of the 2013 season when he hooked up with Geno Smith for a 51-yard touchdown in what ended up being a shootout.
The Jets won that game 27-20, in part because of Hill. He racked up a career-high 108 receiving yards on just three receptions in that contest, showcasing electric breakaway speed on his only score of the entire season.
The former second-round pick has recorded 45 catches for 594 yards, averaging 13.2 yards per reception, with just four touchdowns in two seasons. He's arguably responsible for two gut-wrenching losses to the archrival New England Patriots, and he often does more harm than good to the Jets offense.
Hill's infamous dropped pass while wide open inside of the red zone with just over two minutes remaining against the Patriots in Week 7 of the 2012 season characterizes the type of player he is.
Without a defender in sight, Hill bobbled and dropped what would have been a go-ahead touchdown on third down. His choke forced the Jets to settle for a field goal, which temporarily gave them a three-point lead before Tom Brady and Co. marched down the field for a game-tying kick in regulation before eventually winning the game in overtime.
Hill's dropped pass set the tone for a miserable season. A win would have catapulted the Jets into first place in the AFC East at 4-3 near the season's midway point. The loss led to an out-of-control tailspin that resulted in a 6-10 season.
Hill doubled-up on incompetency on national television in New England during Week 2 of last season, fumbling on a 33-yard gain while the Jets were driving after falling behind 7-0 in the first quarter. The gaffe resulted in a field goal for the Patriots, but it also put the game out of reach in what would become a sloppy defensive showdown in thick rain.
Smith would go on to toss three fourth-quarter interceptions, dissolving any chance the Jets had at making an early-season statement.
For whatever reason, Hill is constantly rewarded for his seeming ineptitude. It's true that he's flashed moments of brilliance, supplying Jets Nation with hope that he can indeed become a stud wideout. His blatant proneness to game-changing mistakes overrides the speed factor.
Which wide receiver should start opposite Eric Decker in 2014?
The pros of starting Hill at receiver are virtually null at this juncture in his career. The cons far outweigh the misguided hope associated with his explosive vertical route-running ability.
As the Jets prepare for training camp, Hill is revving up for a make or break season that will determine whether he has a future in the NFL. The Jets are holding out hope that he can somehow develop some kind of rhythm with Smith, the projected starting signal-caller.
None of that will matter if Hill doesn't learn how to quickly get off the snap and run crisper routes. He needs to do more than sprinting down the sidelines in a straight line. The problem is that he's already proven himself as incapable of doing that.