Why the Steelers should target Stephen Hill with the 24th pick in the 2012 NFL Draft
With the 2012 Draft just over a week away teams are scrambling to fill out their final draft boards and bring in potential targets for visits. The Pittsburgh Steelers are one of those teams, the difference is, they will draft best-player-available with their picks while staying true to their draft board and not reach for a potential need player.
Considered a retooling year after cutting ties with several high profile veterans, one may say the Steelers needs are vast. They need to add youth across the board but most prominently in the trenches is where they could use an injection of both youth and talent.
Many draft pundits speculate the Steelers biggest needs to be offensive line, defensive tackle or middle linebacker. Almost every draft guru has the Steelers mocked into selecting an offensive guard, such as Stanford’s Jonathan Martin or a tackle like Ohio State’s Mike Adams. Many others have the Steelers slated as selecting a MLB like Dont’a Hightower from Alabama. Others have them selecting a hire apparent to Casey Hampton with defensive tackles like Dontari Poe from Memphis or Fletcher Cox, out of Mississippi St. All would be great additions to the team, but none would have the impact or fill a greater need then wide receiver Stephen Hill, a tall, lanky burner from Georgia Tech.
The point many are missing on the Steelers draft is they have already invested heavily with high draft picks on the OL and DL over the last few years and have a youngster at middle linebacker in Sylvester Stevenson that they are very high on to fill the void of James Farrior’s departure. What the pundits fail to see is the possible change of the guard at the receiver position over the next two years.
So let us look into the Pittsburgh Blitz crystal ball. Mike Wallace, the Steelers’ big play wideout, is a restricted free agent (RFA) and wants a huge chunk of change to remain in Pittsburgh. The chances that Wallace gets a huge contract are slim-to-none and his days in the Burgh could be numbered. Up next on the contract merry-go-round next season are the duo of Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders, who are both better route runners and over all wide receivers then Wallace.
Not to mention both Brown and Sanders have the trust of Ben Roethlisberger more so then Wallace does, as they are both targeted on a higher consistency on third downs or when it matters most to move the chains and keep the offense rolling. Yes Wallace makes the splash plays but Brown and Sanders make the plays that count the most.
The point here is the Steelers have evolved into a pass team and for that to continue they need Big Ben to be surrounded by weapons. The fact is, the chances the Steelers retain the rights to the “Young Money Crew” as Brown, Sanders and Wallace refer to themselves, for the long haul are very slim. One if not all three could defect over the next couple of years and the Steelers would be back to square one in the passing game. Enter wide receiver into the discussion.
Stephen Hill has a good blend of size and speed for a receiver. Measuring in at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, Hill ran a 4.38 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. In his three years at Georgia Tech, he averaged 25 yards per catch. (Sound like someone we know and love in the Burgh?)
An underclassman who declared early to enter the 2012 NFL Draft, Hill is a physical specimen with all of the tools to be a top-flight wide receiver at the next level. Combining great size with tremendous speed, he becomes an interesting prospect to a team who could be thin at wide receiver in the very near future.
During the NFL Combine, Hill ran an official 4.36 in the 40-yard dash, tied for the best time from a wide receiver. The 11’1”measurement that he posted in the broad jump was the best among all wide receivers. His vertical jump (39.5 inches) was also impressive, displaying his explosiveness and ability to sky for passes.
Apart from the Combine, what’s really exciting about Hill as a prospect is his potential as an elite deep threat. With blistering speed, great size and a knack for coming down with the ball in traffic, numerous teams will see plenty of value in him as a receiver who can stretch the defense and open up the field for other playmakers. As evidenced by his vertical jump, Hill can elevate over cornerbacks and has the catch radius to pull down most catchable balls regardless of coverage or placement. As an added bonus, he will snag the occasional one-handed catch.
Unfortunately, there is always a downside.
Hailing from Georgia Tech, Hill is still very raw as a route runner. He has a limited arsenal of routes and will need more polish as he transitions into the NFL. Considering his lack of playing time and a legitimate passing game, Hill struggles with reading the defense’s coverage schemes. He doesn’t do a great job of reacting to defenders and often fails to sit down in holes in the coverage. There were numerous occasions where Hill dropped potential touchdown passes and will need to work on his concentration, especially when left open. At times, he can look awkward in the open field with the ball in his hands, but showed some improvement in that department during the combine. Although he could easily be considered a one-year wonder, there’s plenty of evidence to support spending a first or second round pick on Hill.
The positive from all of this is the Steelers are very talented at wide receiver and Hill would not have to be rushed into the mix from day one. He could be eased into the offense and learn the skills he lacks along the way. With his size and speed he would be a great redzone target or addition to the field when they Steelers need to stretch it.
Best of all, Hill is the ultimate insurance policy for the loss of one of the trio of young studs in the receiving corps. Given a year to develop, if one defects over the next few years, Hill can step right in and keep the machine well oiled and Big Ben’s passing stats on par with the best in the league.
Of course the Steelers have several needs this year, but the best plan of action is always to take the best-player-available and with a draft class stocked with talented DT’s and plenty of OG’s and MLB’s to be had in later rounds, the scouting department would be best served, serving Roethlisberger the tall wideout he has lobbied for his entire career.