Stephen Hill was the New York Jets‘ 2nd round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, following a college career that saw him play in the triple option offense. The Jets knew he was going to be a project, but his impressive physical abilities (6-foot-4, 215-pounds, 4.39 40) gave the Jets reason to believe that he had enormous potential.
Hill had an up and down rookie season, catching 21 passes for 252 yards and three touchdowns in 11 games. He struggled with drops and route running, showing the lack of experience that everyone expected. However, he looked like he had the potential to become a very good red zone threat, and his athleticism overwhelmed defensive backs at times.
Heading into this season, the Jets want Hill to step up and emerge as their number one receiver. Santonio Holmes‘ health is still a concern, and he will not be on the Jets after this season. The team’s leading receiver from last season, Jeremy Kerley, is a much better fit in the slot, leaving Hill as the primary outside threat.
Coaches raved about Hill’s practice performance in training camp, and he looked to be one of the most improved players on the team. However, he has struggled to produce in preseason games, making little impact in the Jets’ first two contests. He looked much better against the New York Giants Saturday, catching four passes for 56 yards. Hill will likely be very limited on Thursday, as most starters only make brief cameos in the final preseason game, meaning that the next time he will see serious action is when it counts.
Hill’s lack of production in the preseason can partially be attributed to learning a new offense and partially to the poor quarterback play he must deal with. However, he is only going to improve as he continues to get game reps, and he should be able to overcome these issues. Hill must improve his hands and route running this season, as the Jets’ new West Coast offense demands precise routes and reliable hands. Hill has the ability to be this type of receiver, but he still needs more time.
Another concern with Hill is maturity. He showed visible frustration at times last season, leading to mental mistakes. Against the Giants, Hill got into a scrap with Jacquian Williams and threw a punch, resulting in a personal foul. Hill is just 22 years-old, so maturity will come. However, those are the types of mental mistakes that are absolutely unacceptable for a professional. He doesn’t have to be perfect, but he does have to cut out the mental mistakes.
The Jets may be asking Hill to bite off more than he can chew this season by being their top receiver. However, they are not going to contend this season, so the more experience Hill can get the better, setting him up for the future. Hill has the potential to be a star on the outside, but he still has a lot of work to do.
He may not be quite ready to be a No. 1 receiver yet, but the Jets will still expect him to take a huge step forward this season.