Last month Bengals assistant special teams coach and assistant defensive backs coach (let's just call him an assistant coach), Hue Jackson attended Georgia Tech's Pro Day. Despite being labeled a coach for special teams and the secondary, few people with a working brain are actually buying that Cincinnati's former wide receiver coach (2004-06) isn't applying some influence on the offensive side. Therefore we presume with some certainty that Jackson was at Georgia Tech to check out wide receiver Stephen Hill.
With a need to upgrade wide receiver at some point from now until the regular season opener against the Baltimore Ravens on September 10 (Monday Night Football, baby!), the Bengals could turn their focus on someone like receiver Stephen Hill. Courtesy of From the Rumble Seat (SB Nation's Georgia Tech blog), LilBroey700 offers up his scouting report (with videos following):
Background on Hill:
Stephen Hill is a home-grown prospect from Miller Grove HS in Lithonia, GA, which is roughly 30 minutes east of Atlanta. He was considered a 3-star prospect and was a part of the 2009 class, Coach Paul Johnson's first recruiting class that he had an entire year to recruit at Tech. He's always been a freak of an athlete -- as a senior in high school, he set the state record in the long jump with a jump of 25 ft, 8.75 in. To put that in context of athletic freakishness, he would have won the ACC track and field championships that year with that leap, and would have placed ninth in the Summer Olympic Games. He put up good stats in high school and has always been generally regarded highly as an athlete.
How did Hill make his presence felt in spite of a run-heavy offense:
When asking about him making his presence felt, it may not be appropriate to use the word "despite" in the context of the offense's run-heavy nature. The wild-card factor that our offense has in sending receivers to the draft is that in our offense, a receiver must learn how to effectively block. That sounds like a petty skill for a guy to have when playing receiver, but I feel like it's a major bonus when an NFL team is looking to add someone when they can contribute on the outside in the run game. Hill was a very physical, imposing blocker on the outside that contributed to our run game significantly.
The first example I can think of is on this huge run by Orwin Smith. If you watch the video, you'll notice that Smith passes a Tech player and a defender around the 45-yard line. Upon closer inspection, you'll notice that it's Hill, still making his defender miserable 40 yards later. Aside from blocking, Hill was on the receiving end of most of our passing game. When the offense is largely run-oriented, there can't be a defensive focus on the pass, ending up in a lot of single coverage when Hill can use his size to impose his will against the defender. He was a fantastic fit in our offense and can bring a lot to the table to an NFL team.
Strengths and Weaknesses:
For strengths, you may be noticing a pattern here in that he's very athletic. His size, strength, and speed are a combination that's very difficult to defend. It's interesting because watching him run doesn't immediately give the impression of speed, but when you look closer it's just because he's taking really long strides (a really unique running style, but whatever works).
Our fanbase is pretty much in agreement on his one glaring weakness, in that he's less than reliable. He has some great big-play ability and can make some pretty unbelievable catches from time to time. However, where the fanbase became pretty restless with him was an equal potency for dropping passes that hit him in the gut while he's wide open and almost guaranteed a touchdown (this is also usually followed by him walking off the field with a limp, which is total crap and probably equates more to hurt pride more than an actual injury).
Some people chalk it up to mental mistakes, where he's just not focused enough. I think it would be interesting to see how much it can be attributed to less-than-perfect passes, as our last two QBs (Nesbitt and Washington) have not been passing specialists and rarely got a pass off with a good-looking spiral.
Translation of his combine numbers translate to the football field in college:
I'd say that his combine numbers did translate. He was very fast on the field (again, faster than he looked) with a nice side of strength. One of Coach Johnson's favorite things to do with our passing game is have the QB throw a quick pass as soon as the ball is snapped, and as soon as the WR catches it have him stiff arm the corner and take off down the sideline. Hill was decent at this (Thomas made an art out of it), with long arms and decent strength. However, once he broke down the sideline, there was no catching him more often than not, and if you do catch him he doesn't just go down for anyone.
One other thing that I'd like to see is how his Wonderlic compares to the likes of Justin Blackmon and Alshon Jeffrey. I think it's safe to say that Tech would be considered a better school than Oklahoma State or USC and that our football players are not given a free pass through school, meaning that, as a whole, football players from Tech would likely be considered smarter than players from other schools. However, there was some speculation that part of Hill's motivation for leaving school was that he wasn't really likely to graduate, which could mean he wasn't as smart as his teammates, but could just as easily mean he wasn't a very hard worker and has some motivational issues.
Hill at the next level:
Hill will be an interesting case at the next level. On the Tech end, the fanbase (and coaches, I'm told) were absolutely shocked when we found out that he was going pro. We figured he'd need another year to refine his skills before they were NFL-caliber. However, it looks pretty apparent that he's got all of the physical tools and skills necessary to succeed in the NFL and the only question at this point will be the reliability of his hands.
I think he's a pretty big risk-reward type for teams. I'm hearing that he's being looked at as a potential second-round draft prospect. If he can prove to have reliable hands and actually do what he's paid to do, his athleticism will make him a very dangerous receiver and his blocking ability will be a huge help in the run game. However, if he just can't get his head on straight and catch balls that he should, he'll be a pretty expensive situation-specific guy.
He's not really explosive enough to make his blocking useful as a slot receiver, and nobody can really afford to make a habit out of throwing jump balls down the sidelines. So if he pans out (which really wouldn't surprise me) he'll be a great pickup, but know the risk that your team takes when looking to draft him.