Vertical Goodness: Stephen Hill

Calvin Johnson was a better prospect than Stephen Hill, but the 2012 Combine Stud has the fundamentals to become a dangerous X receiver.

Because I’m tired of picking on Stephen Hill…

I’ve been critical of the Georgia Tech receiver all week, but I’ve also been saying that the star of the Combine is more than just a gold medal winner 2012’s Underwear Olympics at Lucas Oil Stadium. Hill is a legit prospect with NFL starter upside. Although I’ve spent several pages analyzing what Hill doesn’t do, one play can encompass most of his strengths. On the surface, one good play to several not so good ones might seem heavily weighted to the negative. However, there are certain talents that don’t require lengthy analysis to value.

The play that frames Hill’s talents is a 40-yard touchdown reception on 3rd and 12 with 7:56 left in Tech’s contest at Kansas that cuts KU’s lead to 28-24. Hill is the near side receiver from Tech’s base offensive formation. The KU CB shows blitz off the edge.

The reason a QB is encouraged to throw to the side of the field that the blitz originates is that there is usually single coverage and a mismatch favoring the offensive player. In this case, the tall and swift Hill draws a safety.

In this case, the the safety is at linebacker depth. The KU defense might as well be driving an ice cream truck on the field and blaring “FREE BOMB POPS!!!” over its loudspeaker. Hill is way to fast for a safety to cover one-on-one. As we’ve seen from even his unsuccessful plays this week, Hill is a load to handle without a major cushion from a cornerback. This means Kansas is relying on its pressure to disrupt Tech QB Joshua Nesbitt to the point that he can’t get the ball down field to Hill.

With Nesbitt’s back to the two blitzing KU defenders, it becomes more apparent why the defense takes this risk of leaving Hill alone on a safety. Although with an 11-point lead, I don’t see the need to be that aggressive. But that’s why I’m a blogger and KU’s coaches get paid the big bucks.

Looks pretty good for Kansas right now, but a mobile quarterback can gum up the works.

After Nesbitt finished his drop he is quick enough to roll away from the LB.

It takes a lot less time for Nesbitt to elude the pressure and set to throw down field than Kansas anticipated.

You should never scream free ice cream on a football field. That’s what KU did when it blitzed the cornerback and dropped the safety to cover Stephen Hill.

The Tech QB uncorks a pass that travels over 55 yards on a line to Hill, who gets behind the safety.

Hill might be behind the safety, but there’s not a lot of separation considering his 4.36-speed. Find out why.

Hill doesn’t have a lot of separation from the safety as the ball is in the air, but it’s important to consider that the Tech QB had to elude pressure, which made the throw late. The fact that Nesbitt makes a 55-yard-plus throw on a line within catch worthy range of the receiver is a testament to his arm strength. You can see that Hill has slowed down to wait on the ball with the safety closing the gap.

After briefly turning back to the ball, Hill gets his shoulders and back ahead of the safety to shield the ball as it arrives. The defender has no choice but to continue his chase without looking back to the ball.

In contrast to yesterday’s post where Hill doesn’t manage physical play on a deep route, this time the Tech receiver does a much better job of resisting the temptation to get physical. With his safety still in a vulnerable position to incur a pass interference penalty, Hill get his hands up and catches the ball with arms extended. Although he no longer shields the defender with his back, the fact he began the catch process with is back to his opponent forces the safety to raise his arms and hope he knocks the ball away. Now the safety is committing an act of interference because his hands are still in the face of Hill and he never turned back to the ball to demonstrate he was making a play on it.

Hill finishes the play in bounds with the ball secured to his body.

Hill catches the ball with his hands extended from his body at a full sprint, controls his body effectively to stay in bounds, and he’s not distracted by the prospect of physical play. Speed, hands, ball tracking, body adjustment, boundary awareness, and height are all skill that coaches covet from wide receivers – especially X receivers who are asked to stretch the field and dissuade opponents from blitzing them.

Although I like Marvin Jones more than Stephen Hill, they are two different styles of receiver. Hill is a pure X receiver. Jones is probably a more natural Z receiver capable of holding his own as an X. Unlike Jones, Hill will probably be able to add more muscle to his frame and retain his speed. Combine that potential strength-speed-agility combo with skill at catching the football and its obvious why teams in need of a big-play receiver will covet the potential of Stephen Hill.

Coming Soon: Lance Lewis showing how he’s the spitting image of Brandon Lloyd on fade routes.

For more analysis like this at every skill position, purchase the Rookie Scouting Portfolio.  Pre-order the 2012 RSP and buy past RSPs (2006-2011) here.


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