|Stephen Hill put on quite a show in Indianapolis, running a 4.36 40-yard dash and excelling in receiver drills.|
Who is Stephen Hill?
That's one of the biggest questions floating around in scouting circles after the former Georgia Tech receiver put on a spectacular showing at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Hill ranked among the top performers at any position in the 40-yard dash (4.36), vertical jump (39.5 inches) and three-cone drill (6.88), and finished as one of the standouts in the receiver drills. His combination of athleticism, body control and balance is impressive for a 6-foot-4, 215-pound receiver, and offensive coordinators around the league are intrigued by the possibility of incorporating an extraordinary athlete into their game plans.
Evaluating Hill's game tape, I see a big, physical receiver with exceptional speed and quickness. He excels at running the vertical portion of the route tree (go route, post and deep cross) and his ability to run past defenders is accentuated by the deception of the Yellow Jackets' triple-option offense. As a pass catcher, Hill shows strong hands and gives the quarterback a huge target with his enormous catching radius (33 3/8-inch arms and a 79 1/2-inch wingspan). He has a penchant for coming down with acrobatic catches in a crowd, and his ability to win contested balls makes him a dangerous weapon in the red zone.
In terms of the weaker aspects of Hill's game, I would point to his unrefined route-running skills, limited experience with pro passing-game concepts and drops due to lapses in concentration. His struggles with route running and concepts are partially due to the simplistic nature of Georgia Tech's passing game. Hill primarily ran deep routes or quick screens to take advantage of the isolated matchups created by the Yellow Jackets' run-heavy approach. While he certainly made the most of limited opportunities last season -- 28 receptions for 820 yards (29.3 yards per catch!) and five touchdowns -- he was rarely asked to run intermediate routes and clearly lacks fluidity in that area.
Hill's raw tools warrant serious consideration as a potential early-round selection, but his game is still unrefined in several aspects, so evaluators will arrive at Georgia Tech's pro day Tuesday looking to find a few answers to their most pressing questions. Here three questions Hill must address to solidify his status as one of the top receivers in the draft:
1. How good are Hill's hands?
Hill finished his three-year collegiate career with a grand total of 49 receptions, so evaluators don't have an extensive film résumé to study his game. That makes his performance at Tuesday's pro day critical to his final evaluation for most teams. Scouts and coaches will want to assess his pass-catching ability, particularly his hand-eye coordination and concentration. Evaluators will set up several ball-drill stations designed to test his ability to track the ball into his hands. Some of the drills will require Hill to catch the ball from a stationary position, while others will put him on the move to see how well he catches the ball from various angles.
Considering his limited experience catching balls at intermediate range, coaches will repeatedly ask him to catch balls from 12-to-15 yards away from the quarterback to gauge his ability to quickly pick up the flight of the ball. In addition, they will instruct him to work through various obstacles designed to simulate traffic over the middle and assess his ability to find and follow the ball.
Coaches will also put Hill through the paces on an assortment of ball drills from both sides to see if he has a strong or weak side catching the ball. As silly as it sounds, some receivers are more comfortable catching the ball from a preferred side and that could factor into the equation when determining where to align Hill on offense.
2. How quickly will Hill adapt to a pro route tree?
Hill's experience in Georgia Tech's triple option obviously isn't ideal preparation for the pro game. He was only targeted a few times each game and the vast majority of his receptions were compiled on vertical throws. Consequently, scouts will want to see how well Hill executes intermediate routes that are staples of most pro passing games.
To assess Hill's route-running ability, coaches will take him through an assortment of cone drills to see his ability to break down and transition out of cuts. He will be instructed to execute 45- and 90-degree angle breaks to simulate curls, square-ins and comebacks, and scouts will pay close attention to his ability to regenerate his speed out of cuts.
Hill will run the route tree from both sides of the field to give scouts a feel for where he stands in his development and how quickly he can get up to speed as a pro. Although all pro playbooks are unique in their concepts, the individual routes are fairly consistent and all necessary information can be gleaned from watching Hill's basic workout.
With that determination factoring heavily into Hill's final grade on the draft board, Hill's ability to show progress as a route runner could keep his name on the rise in war rooms across the league.
3. Can Hill comprehend the complexities of a pro scheme?
Hill faces a significant transition moving from Georgia Tech's triple option to any pro offense due to his inexperience with some of the nuances of a sophisticated passing game. He will enter the league with limited experience in hot reads or sight adjustments (breaking off a route in anticipation of a blitz), and didn't face much press or "cloud" coverage due to the run-heavy emphasis of his offense.
To assess his overall understanding of passing-game concepts and defensive coverage, coaches will put him on the blackboard to measure his overall football knowledge. In addition, coaches will teach him a few simple concepts and see if he is able to retain and process that information on the field. If he is able to execute and implement those concepts while simultaneously digesting information from a shifting defense, Hill will earn high marks from evaluators for his adaptability and football acumen. For teams employing complex systems predicated on post-snap adjustments from receivers based on coverage or blitz, Hill's ability to adjust on the fly will be a critical factor in his overall grade.
Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks