Removing Stephen Hill From The Starting Lineup Is Smart, But Does Not Make Him a Jets Draft Bust

Alfonzo Dennard, Stephen Hill

According to Brian Costello of the New York Post, Rex Ryan is considering taking wide receiver, Stephen Hill, out of the starting lineup when the Jets go to Baltimore to take on the Ravens, Sunday.

While it would represent a step down for the 2nd-year receiver out of Georgia Tech, it is the right move.  When dealing with the project, it is important to evaluate the best use and strategy with them.  Hill, who many projected would take a long time to adjust to NFL norms, is indeed struggling, but taking him out of the lineup can be a good thing for someone who still has a lot of time before being called a “bust”.

In this NFL, and sports world as well, there is now a rush to judgement whenever anything happens.  It is no different from evaluating players.  This trend gets compounded in football, where each game means more than any other sport’s and the media and fans get a whole week to discuss and analyze the team between matchups.

So unlike, lets say Baseball – where a rookie could slump but have more games every day ahead of him – football allows us to sit back and evaluate statistics, come up with drawn out theories, and compare each of these players to others.

This is part of the problem with Stephen Hill.  Recently, a popular criticism of Hill is a look at a WR who was taken shortly after him, in Alshon Jeffery of the Bears.  Jeffery has had a successful season in Chicago, with 54 receptions and 818 yards, with 3 touchdowns.  Many point to his success as a determining factor that Hill is a failure.

But that would fall short of telling the whole story.  Alshon Jeffery has had Jay Cutler, a strong veteran QB, throwing him balls for most of his career (with established backup Josh McCown continuing the strong play in Cutler’s absence).  Jeffery also has an elite WR opposite him in Brandon Marshall, who draws most of the attention from opposing teams.

Stephen Hill has had three below average QBs (and that is being friendly), two offensive coordinators (calling Tony Sparano an OC is being friendly), and no capable veteran receivers opposite him for most of his career (Santonio Holmes has played in parts of only 9 games since 2012).  Not exactly the ideal set up for a guy we knew would take a while to learn certain important basics of being a pro.

And lets not forget that Jeffery was not a sure thing.  Hindsight sure makes geniuses out of all of us, but his draft projections had him being out of a shape and with questionable speed and separation from defenders.  While some saw him being a good contributor, his potential was seen as probably a possession receiver, possibly no more than that.

It is hard to project receivers in the NFL past the elite few (who sometimes do not work out as well).  Few other positions do you get a scattering of talent from all rounds.  Many times it is a crap shoot as to what WR will succeed once you get past the 1st round.  Jets took a chance on a project with skills you can only get that deep in the draft if they are not ready.  The Bears got someone ready, but with a lower ceiling.

Could the Jets have made a different move in the draft? Maybe someone more of a “play-now” receiver? Absolutely.  But they could have also wound up with the Detroit Lions’ pick, Ryan Broyles, who also went in the 2nd round and has only 395 yards total during two injury-plagued seasons.

Guess when we second guess, we forget that the result could also be worse.  Maybe we need to see Mike Tannenbaum’s draft board first?

All of this, though, is more about other players and less about what Hill needs.  This is a guy who most thought would sit out a lot of his first year in the NFL, learning the game and getting ready to be unleashed in the future.

Instead, General Manager Tannenbaum surrounded Hill with only one established star WR, in Santonio Holmes (which questionable leadership skills over his career), and one up and coming WR in Jeremy Kerley – a short, inside receiver with little in common with Hill.

With the Clyde Gates and Chaz Schilens of the world around him, no wonder Hill had to play immediately.

The worst thing that happened to Stephen Hill was that first, unexpected, offensive outburst from Mark Sanchez and the Jets offense.  Suddenly Hill was a star, catching two touchdowns in his first game.  He would hardly ever come close to repeating that again.  Expectations rose, and he was not anywhere near ready to reach them.

So now the Jets are finally going to do what they should have done coming into this rebuilding year; they are going to take him out and let him play less.  Now he can concentrate on other things instead of the entire game strategy.  With Holmes back, perhaps he can learn from one of the best route-runners in the game.

We knew it would take Hill some time to get ready.  Now the Jets are finally taking the steps to make it possible for him.  Sometimes the thing players need is just what we have each week between NFL games: Time.

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