Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  Last updated 3/22/12
As a wide receiver playing in a triple-option offense, Georgia Techs Stephen Hill did not have reams of film for scouts to scour when he made himself eligible for the NFL Draft. He caught 49 passes in his three-year career with the Yellow Jackets or less than half of what Oklahoma States Justin Blackmon caught in his senior season alone. That meant when it came to his evaluation by scouts, the NFL Combine took on greater importance for Hill than it might for other players. As it happened, the 6-foot-5, 206-pound 20-year-old from Lithonia aced his test. Hill ran the second-fastest 40 time at the combine, 4.36 seconds, and caught all of the passes thrown to him, sending his draft stock soaring. Before that, he was being projected as a fourth-round pick. If I had a strong combine, theyd project me as a second round (pick), but now that I had a strong combine, theyre saying late first round, Hill said. Im really not buying into it. Im just trying to take it a day at a time. For players like Hill, whose college teams schemes are not necessarily conducive to showing off how their skills might translate to the NFL level, the time between the end of the season and the draft is critical. Thus far, Hill has made the most of his opportunities. He said when he went to the combine, coaches asked him what time he would run. He told them he had run a 4.27 hand-timed and 4.35 on a meter. The coaches didnt believe him until he ran it. The effect of the combine for him might simply have been to shine a new light on his resume. While he caught only 28 passes last season, Hill did average a whopping 29.3 yards per catch for a total of 820 yards and five touchdowns. Also, the fact that Tech has produced two excellent NFL receivers with similar physical skills to Hills also cannot hurt. Along with Calvin Johnson (6-5, 236), who was drafted second overall by Detroit in 2007 and recently signed a seven-year deal with 60 million guaranteed, and Demaryius Thomas (6-3, 235), who was selected 22nd overall by Denver in 2010, Hill is in good company. Thomas and Hill were briefly teammates at Tech and remain friendly. In January after Thomas caught the 80-yard touchdown pass in overtime to defeat Pittsburgh in the playoffs and put him firmly in the consciousness of NFL fans, Hill got in touch. Yeah, they always compare me to him, Hill said. I can say its a good thing, but the way I think, I just want to make my own name. But other than that, hes a great guy. He was actually like a mentor to me in a way. While Johnson played at Tech under a more pro-style offense run by current Buffalo Bills coach Chan Gailey, Hill and Thomas had to show what they could do in an offense in which only a scant few pass plays per game might be called. The plus side is that Hill got to show what he can do on blocking assignments a priority for most NFL offenses. The negative is that Hill must show that he can run all nine routes that NFL offenses demand since Hills film might be somewhat lacking in that area. To improve his route-running, Hill is working out three days a week with former Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Terance Mathis. The biggest concern was me getting in and out of breaks, Hill said of what scouts want to see. Can I transfer from running deep routes to little short cuts? They noticed that I impressed them a little bit. Hill also is working out at Tech with a physical trainer Chad Ochocinco and Johnson are working with the same one to get stronger physically. Mathis has told Hill he needs to get stronger in his upper body to prepare for teams that play press coverage so he can get off the jams without being re-routed. In selecting Tech, Hill said NFL dreams were never part of the process. He wanted to remain in-state so his parents could watch him play and Tech was among the first teams to offer him. Growing up about 25 miles away, he accepted. Georgia recruited him after he gave his verbal commitment, but he stuck with the Jackets. He talked about what it was like to play for coach Paul Johnson, a task-master. It was pretty tough, Hill said. It was tough because you have to it makes you become a man. When he heard taunts about putting his blocking gloves on, Hill said he used it as motivation to play as hard as he could. In addition to showing teams his route-running, Hill also has attempted to impress NFL types with his character and intellect. (His pro day was March 6 and he had three individual workouts scheduled with teams.) At Tech, he was majoring in statistics, science, technology and culture. He said his parents impressed upon him the importance of his education another reason he picked Tech and he plans on ultimately finishing his degree. Whats also impressive about Hill, despite the millions he might soon be able to demand in a signing bonus, is that he met an interviewer recently in a beat-up old car. He is not taking any success he might already have had in his evaluation process for granted but, all the same, hes trying to enjoy it. The humility comes across as genuine. I mean, its good to see your name in the newspaper for something positive, he said. But other than that, Im just really taking one day at a time. Everything Ive done -- pro day, combine -- is out the door because now I have individual workouts and I have to score on those. Show the coaches what I can do and not what the experts are telling everyone on the TV.
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