Can Stephen Hill Finally Live up to Expectations in 2014?
The words "optimism" and "potential" aren't descriptors you'll hear floating around conversation about the New York Jets offense often. That's largely because the 2013 version of the squad wasn't very fond of scoring points. And a big part of that suckitude was second-year receiver Stephen Hill.
Hill wasn't just bad in 2013 - he was awful. Yet this is a dude who was 6'3", 215, and ran a 4.36 40 at the combine. How could a guy with such disgustingly awesome measurables struggle so much in the NFL? And what do we think of him moving forward? These questions are borderline impossible to answer, but let's take a shot at it here.
Because he played in a triple-option offense at Georgia Tech, a volume of work was never in Hill's favor. But dude went HAM when he touched the football.
During his final year, Hill had 28 receptions. He turned those 28 receptions into 820 yards, or 29.3 yards per reception. Get out of your darn mind, bruh. This was nearly double the yards per reception that fellow Yellow Jacket Calvin Johnson put up when he was there (although Johnson had 129 more catches throughout his Georgia Tech career, so me thinks he might be a little bit better).
In 2011, Hill recorded three or more catches in only four games. That might have been a bit of a red flag for NFL teams, but what Hill did in those games may have been too juicy to pass up. In those four games, Hill recorded 181, 126, 151 and 78 receiving yards respectively. When you flash like that, heads will turn. After he posted those sick numbers at the combine, the hype machine got poppin' like crazy.
Production, Where Art Thou?
It's safe to say Hill hasn't converted that potential into diddly squat yet in his NFL career. Over two seasons with the Jets, Hill has recorded a catch in only 14 total games. He has missed games in each year due to knee injuries, and often when he has been healthy, he has been a complete non-factor.
The basic stats on Hill are underwhelming. Total, he has recorded 45 receptions for 594 yards and four touchdowns. When you dig deeper into the analytics, things get even worse.
Here at numberFire, we've got this helpful little thingamabobber called Net Expected Points (NEP). Before each play, there is an expected number of points a team will score on a drive. A positive play such as a catch for a first down will increase that expected number of points, and a negative play will decrease it. The sum of each of those plays involving a player over the course of the season is their Total NEP. To read more on that, you can click here.
For wide receivers, there are three separate marks we can look at to evaluate them. The first is Reception NEP. This is the player's NEP on the receptions he made throughout the season. Then, there's Target NEP, which is the NEP of the player each time he was targeted. Finally, we have Reception NEP per target, which is the player's Reception NEP divided by the total number of times he was targeted.
In his rookie campaign, Hill finished the season with a 28.34 Reception NEP. Considering he only had 21 receptions, that was actually decent. A big part of the problem for Hill was that he had Mark Sanchez throwing him (trying to, at least) the pigskin. This resulted in a Target NEP of only 2.86. While this isn't by any means good, it's also not historically bad. That came in 2013.
Whether it was just a continuation of the injuries or the struggles of Geno Smith, Hill's numbers got straight stanky last year. In the NFL in 2013, there were 196 wide receivers that were targeted at least once. Only one of them had a lower Target NEP than Hill. That was Greg Little, who is nothing short of painfully atrocious. Little finished the season with a -37.70 Target NEP on 99 targets. Hill was at -28.15 in only 59 targets, meaning he was actually more efficient with his poopiness! Neat!
Let's give this some meaning. Basically, if Geno had never targeted Hill, the team would have scored 28.15 more points on the year. Clearly those targets would have gone to someone else, but assuming that situation was an average one, the Jets would have scored about four more touchdowns. Hill only played in 12 games, so he essentially lost the Jets an average of 2.35 points per game he played. That. Is. So. Bad. That's not a second-year physical freak; that's a guy you cut on the spot.
Since 2000, there have only been five seasons worse than Hill's in terms of Target NEP. None of the guys worse than Hill on that list had fewer than 100 targets, and again, Hill only had 59. There's a reason he only caught one ball after October 27th, and it's not because he got all chubbed up on Halloween candy.
Can Hill Still Rebound?
Like I mentioned, part of the problem with Hill has been that the guys throwing him the football have been really bad as well. If Smith throws a pick, that murders Hill's Target NEP. So it's certainly not all his fault, but that doesn't exactly mean Hill's on the verge of a breakout. Considering that quarterbacks that do as poorly as Smith did last year generally don't amount to much later in their careers, things look murky at best.
Still, it's hard to completely count Hill out of the equation. Apparently, and I'm actually not making this up for once, the man grew an inch-and-a-half during the off-season and added some muscle. He's also only 23 and entering his third year in a pro-style offense. When you add in the fact that he's not learning a new system with Marty Mornhinweg entering year two as the offensive coordinator, there are some reasons to hold out hope that Hill could still form into something decent.
There's also the oh-so-brief flashes where Hill shows what he can do. In Weeks 2 and 3 last year, Hill combined for seven receptions for 192 yards with a 51-yard touchdown reception. It's enough to make that leash so much longer before you release him because you just want to see if he can do it one more time.
In the end, Stephen Hill is just an impossible guy to figure. A man with his measurables should not have high comparisons with Greg Little. Yet, the flashes, the growth and the pre-NFL hype make you wonder if this is the year it all finally clicks. If he and Geno can develop a chemistry, the Jets offense may not suck as much this year as it did in 2013. If not, though, the sky finna get black in Florham Park, and not everybody will make it out employed.