Hill had signed with the Denver Broncos in the offseason, but failed to make the final roster and had been sitting unsigned since then. He's been in the league since 2007, but never lived up to his initial potential after he set records at Washington State and ran a 4.32 at the combine, enticing the 49ers to draft him in the third round.
After the jump, I look in detail at footage from Hill's time in the league to evaluate some of his strengths and weaknesses.
Who is Jason Hill?
Hill is probably best known, especially among Jets fans, for trash talking the Jets and Darrelle Revis prior to their game against the Jags last season. Hill was inactive and the Jags lost 32-3. However, he has plenty of NFL experience catching 70 passes for 1,028 yards and eight touchdowns. During his first season, he struggled with injuries, catching just one pass in five games. However, he started to emerge in his second season, ending up with a career best 30 catches. He caught four passes for 39 yards, making a couple of nice plays in a late season game against the Jets, where Shaun Hill led the Niners to a 24-14 win, putting a dent in the Jets' playoff hopes. 2009 was a disappointment as he was mostly inactive and only caught nine passes and in 2010 he was waived, re-signed and then waived again by the 49ers, but was picked up by the Jaguars and did a pretty good job for them over the last few weeks. He caught 25 passes with the Jaguars last year in just ten games, which was second on the team. He also set career bests in yardage (367) and touchdowns (3). Even so, he was released at the end of November, as the Jaguars decided to give more playing time to some of their younger receivers.
13 starts, of which 10 were in 2011
76 catches, 1,028 yards, eight touchdowns
13.5 yards per catch (10.1 with SF, 17.1 with Jacksonville)
63% catch rate (83% with the 49ers, 49% with the Jags)
Five drops, of which four were in 2011
Two carries for five yards (nine yard gain and four yard loss)
One fumble (not lost)
One kick return for 30 yards
17 special teams tackles, including 10 in 2008, three missed tackles, one penalty
Five drawn penalties, Four offensive penalties committed
15 20+ yard plays and three 40+ yard plays
Already we can infer some things just from the numbers. Hill can clearly make some long plays (check the highlights Bassett posted earlier to see some of these), but he can also operate effectively as more of a possession receiver type. His horrible catch rate numbers in Jacksonville can be partially attributed to the struggles of Blaine Gabbert, but the book on him in 2011 was that he didn't emerge as the number one receiver they were hoping and he dropped too many balls - with many of them apparently coming on slant patterns - which was unusual since drops had never been an issue with the 49ers. We also know Hill is confident, maybe irrationally so, based on the Revis comments.
Based on all the regular season footage I watched, here was my take on what Hill brings to the table, divided into categories:
Usage - In 2008, he was primarily a slot receiver, but in 2009, 2010 and 2011 he was mostly on the outside. With the Jets, I'd expect him to remain in that role.
Deep threat - Hill's career numbers on throws more than 20 yards downfield are 8-for-23 for 282 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. That's not actually a bad percentage (35%) when you consider that both Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes were at 30% in 2010. In fact, Hill's percentage was much higher than that entering last season, but he was just two for 10 on throws more than 20 yards downfield by Gabbert. To see Hill going deep, see Bassett's clips from earlier, which comprised a 74 yard touchdown and a 37 yard gain on plays where there was a coverage breakdown and a 48 yard touchdown on a play where he burned safety Michael Huff.
Blocking - Hill has average size, but did make some good blocks. In particular, he showed a good ability to come from the outside to set the edge on a linebacker or defensive back, although there was one play where he tried to do that to Manny Lawson and got driven into the backfield where the runner tripped over him. He also made some good downfield blocks. An example is here, as he sustains his downfield block on Nnamdi Asomugh at the 40-yard line to set up a long touchdown run. He also reacted well on a broken play to take Reggie Nelson out of the play.
Routes - In all the footage I watched, there were just three plays where there was a miscommunication between Hill and the quarterback, although you can never tell whose error that was. However, there was one where he stopped his route and allowed OJ Atogwe to jump in front of him for a pick. In terms of his technical route running ability he showed an ability to get open on simple in, out and curl routes. He also showed an ability to improvize downfield when a play breaks down and obviously has the speed to run an effective go-route.
Hands - Until last season, Hill only had one drop in his NFL career. However, in 2011 he dropped four passes, three on slants and one on a bubble screen. He also had a very low catch rate. He didn't make too many highlight reel-type grabs, with perhaps the best ones being a tough diving catch with a man draped all over him and a juggling catch on a ball thrown behind him, both with the Jags.
Yards after the catch - Statistically, he didn't light it up in this category, averaging between four and five yds after the catch (which is basically average) in every season but one (2009, where he only caught nine passes). However, as a measure of how good he is at making extra yardage, he broke a total of 20 tackles from 2008 to 2011. By way of a comparison, Santonio Holmes broke 32. However Hill had 75 catches over that timespan, whereas Holmes had 259, more than three times as much. There were plenty of examples of this, including a play where he slipped one tackle and span out of another on 3rd and seven to get to the marker (only to be victimized by a bad spot). On another play, he broke Cortland Finnegan's tackle on the outside and then another tackle downfield for a 24-yard pickup down the sideline. In that game against the Jets in 2008, he broke Dwight Lowery's tackle on a slant route and almost scored, only to have Hank Poteat knock the ball loose at the goal line for his only career fumble. He also converted a third down by breaking a Revis tackle, perhaps explaining in part that over-confidence.
Special Teams - On special teams, he was pretty productive in kick coverage and employed as an effective primary gunner on the punt unit with San Francisco. I don't know that he'll be as effective in that role now he's a little older, but he definitely made some impressive plays.
Demeanor - As you'd probably expect, given the confidence his Revis comments showed, Hill is pretty excitable, gets fired up after big plays and shows some cockiness. Maybe that's something this team could use. However, reports suggested that he was disgruntled with his lack of opportunities in 2009 and displayed poor body language, so it might be a challenge to keep him happy.
As noted earlier, Hill was with the Broncos in preseason. He had a good game in Week 1, but didn't do much thereafter. Here's a detailed breakdown of the plays he was involved in:
Week 1 at Chicago
- With four minutes left in the second quarter, he looked sharp as he caught a pass on an in-route from the outside and slipped two tackles, stopped just short of the goal line on a six yard play.
- Went deep down the sideline but the pass hung in the air and the safety came over to break it up.
- Lined up out wide and made a catch over the middle with a defender on his back for 10 on 2nd and 11.
- 19-yard TD on a quick slant as he caught the ball in stride and dragged the defender over the goal line.
Week 2 v Seattle
- Late in the third quarter, he lined up as a gunner on the punt team and made the tackle, getting off his block to shove Leon Washington out of bounds. However, he didn't get down there too fast and it was a 12 yard return.
- Hill was in on 10 offensive snaps, but only targeted once. He was open on the outside, but the throw was wide and out of his reach as he made a diving attempt.
Week 3 v San Francisco
- With 2:36 to go, Hill caught a 21-yard pass but it was negated by a holding penalty. The protection broke down and the quarterback started to scramble, then flipped a shovel pass to Hill in the flat. He broke a tackle to get the downfield yardage.
- On the next play, Hill ran a curl route downfield, but dropped the ball badly as he started turning upfield before securing the catch. This was his only official target for Hill in 27 snaps.
Week 4 at Arizona
- On the third play of the game, Hill caught a pass but was stopped for no gain. Patrick Peterson read the bubble screen perfectly and dropped Hill as soon as he caught the ball.
- Shortly before half time, he went deep, but Mike Adams made a leaping breakup as he was right with Hill. He was just targeted twice in 37 snaps.
I'm not sure what kind of shape Hill will be in, but in preseason he looked pretty sharp, other than that one drop. In terms of how he can be best used by the Jets, I'm not sure that's been determined yet. In his career so far, he has been a possession receiver (with a high catch rate and a low average) and more of a downfield threat (with a high average and a low catch rate).
Hill is an NFL-level talent with some good physical ability, but has never really lived up to his potential and - as you'd expect from anyone available at this point of the season - isn't close to being an elite receiver. However, he has some experience and some residual upside, so it could prove to be a positive move for the Jets.
I'd expect his reps to be restricted at first, because he'll need some time to learn the playbook, but once he's ready (assuming he's in good shape too), I'd expect him to compete for playing time with Stephen Hill and Chaz Schilens on the outside. Hopefully, the Jets will have upgraded the position here, but read what you may into the fact they can do that with an unsigned veteran off the street.