2016 Marks A Resurgence of Stephen Hill
After injuries and drops ended his career quickly in New York, Stephen Hill is ready for a resurgence in 2016 for the Panthers
For Stephen Hill, adversity is a word that doesn’t come close to describing his NFL career.
Drafted 43rd overall in the 2012 draft from Georgia Tech to the New York Jets, Hill was described by scouts as a receiver with, “rare speed and explosion,” drawing comparison to Yellow Jackets before him such as Calvin Johnson and Demaryius Thomas. Measuring at 6-foot-4, 215-pounds, Hill had so many upsides that the only thing in the scouting report that plagued him was need of development time; which can be said for just about any rookie, especially ones who forgo their senior year.
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Pure athleticism can describe Hill in two words. Before college, Hill was a three star recruit out of Lithonia, Georgia where Rivals.com rated him the 99th best receiver nationwide in the 2009 class. Hill was a track star as well, breaking state records in the long jump and winning at the Georgia State Olympics in the 300 meter hurdles in 2009.
So, what happened? A prospect entering the NFL drawing comparison from some of the best in this decade now is fighting to stay on a 53-man roster.
First, his rookie campaign ended on a sour note due to an LCL sprain in his knee, causing him to go on injured reserve finishing the year with 253 yards and three touchdowns. Again in his second season in 2013 he was placed on injured reserve in December with another knee injury.
Then, quarterback problems, which do not not help a rookie who needed development. Hill’s two seasons with the Jets had him catching passes from Mark Sanchez in year one and Geno Smith in year two. Those two starters now are backups or competing for starting positions elsewhere. One is known for fumbling a ball off of a teammates back end, and the other is known for having his jaw broken by a teammate.
Finally, drops. Bad drops. Drops that occurred during some of the most crucial times in the game that had then coach Rex Ryan storming mad on the sidelines did not help his case to see more playing time as a Jet. His rookie campaign produced a drop rate of 22.2%, one of the highest in the league. Two seasons into his four year rookie contract, Hill was released and picked up by the Carolina Panthers.
Spending the 2014 on practice squad, 2015 looked to be a season in which Hill could flex his muscles and prove that he was worthy of being a starting receiver in the NFL.
Yet again, injury struck.
On August 2nd, 2015 Hill tore his ACL, PCL, LCL, and hamstring in practice, his third knee injury in four seasons. Kelvin Benjamin went down two weeks later with a knee injury ending his second season campaign.
Wide receivers coach Ricky Proehl spoke about the impact the injuries in an interview on a Carolina radio station in June saying, “You ask Cam Newton. It may have been Kelvin [Benjamin] and Stephen Hill as our starters.”
“It’s just one of those bumps in the road that you wish you could get back,’’ Hill said on the 2015 injury to ESPN and added, “It basically was a freak accident, but I’m back now.”
Hill was waived from the team’s roster but resigned in March of this year, and is working again to build up his reputation as a potential contributor to the offense this year.
Making his presence felt already, Hill has turned heads this training camp making catches over some of the new additions at corner.
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Describing his work ethic and hustle, Proehl added, “Stephen has just, he has worked his tail off.”
“I’ve seen people have the injury he’s had and they can’t even walk the same. They can’t even walk normal. This guy’s running full speed. He’s getting in and out of his cuts. He’s practicing like anybody else in our room is.”
Once a promising second round draft pick, now a middle of the depth chart receiver looking for any snaps. But throughout, the pure talent and athleticism has remained leaving Hill a man with dark days behind, but a brighter future ahead.