All you New York Jets fans out there, it’s time you found out about the key piece to the team’s ascension. It’s time you took a closer look into their ranks and know who will bear his share of the burden. In the 2012 NFL Draft, Gang Green acquired wide receiver Stephen Hill with the No. 43 pick; now — during this training camp — is the time to start paying attention to him.
Many of you, like me, may have your apprehensions about the former Georgia Tech receiver. After all, the young rookie caught just under 45 percent of his passes for 252 yards last season — not the traditional makings of a breakout star like Victor Cruz or A.J. Green. But I beseech you to look deeper with Hill, as those anemic numbers do not tell the whole story. Each dimension of his play will be explored and will bring us to his development in training camp this offseason.
First and foremost, the 252 yards do not tell the whole story. No. 84 had 21 receptions last season and a whopping 17 of them – 80 percent — were for first downs. In other words, when Mark Sanchez threw to Hill, it was most always moving the chains, supported by Hill’s 12-yard average of receiving yards per catch. Combined with his 6-foot-4 frame, the Jets may have a sleeping giant — a man capable of both the deep ball and the red zone threat.
As many of you know, this postulating may come across as very optimistic. Truth be told, Hill was labeled very early on as a ball-dropping receiver. But is this the real truth? Wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal thinks otherwise, talking to the Daily News last month about the drops against the Saint Louis Rams and the New England Patriots:
“To me, he had a terrible drop in St. Louis … and the terrible one in New England that everyone remembers. Two true, real drops, and he had one in preseason.”
The preseason drop Lal was referring to was a wide-open shot in the end zone. Be that as it may, I think Hill’s reputation has been ill-conceived. I will be the first to admit that I loathed the receiver after I saw him drop the easy pass against New England. But it could just as well have been one mistake made glaring by the game and the spotlight. I believe the fans wrath should be withheld for another season. It was Sanchez who was throwing him the ball, and you cannot deny the ball handling skills of a man whose top play at Georgia Tech was one-handed catch in mid air.
It was Lal who theorized that Hill may have had a concentration issue — one I cannot blame him for. With the circus tent up for the Jets last season, it could have been difficult for a man just of out college to keep his head in the game.
And this brings us to this year’s training camp, where Hill is currently the only wide receiver in a group that includes cornerback Antonio Cromartie, linebacker Demario Davis and defensive end Quinto Coples who are training in California. As I mentioned in my previous article, Cromartie has proven himself to be a top-tier cornerback in the league. If Hill has any hopes of utilizing his potential, he must learn to win those battles against his teammate.
As the Jets did not use a high draft pick on any receivers this year, the pressure will once again fall on Hill to be a deep threat for whoever is under center. If he can concentrate and prove wrong his reputation for dropped passes, I believe he can compliment the short game of receivers Santonio Holmes and Jeremy Kerley. Keep the hope alive, Jets fans, I know I am.
Jeremy is a New York Jets writer for RantSports.com. Follow him/her on Twitter JeremyGoldstei1, “Like” him/her on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.