2014 NFL Draft: Pre-Season Breakdown – Austin Hill, WR Arizona

Nov. 23, 2012; Tucson, AZ, USA: Arizona Wildcats wide receiver Austin Hill against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Arizona Stadium. The Sun Devils defeated the Wildcats 41-34. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Rich Rodriguez brought his spread style offense out to the desert and to the Arizona Wildcats after a less than ideal situation in Ann Arbor.  He has had been able to bring in talent and has a few big time players with significant potential going to the NFL including their big time wide receiver, Austin Hill.  Hill had a breakout year as a sophomore with 81 catches for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns plus a 2-point conversion and could have similar success if not even more coming back as a junior.

There will be some skepticism with Hill and players like him coming out of the style of offense being run in Arizona between an improvised route tree and some rub and mesh concepts that make it easier for receivers to get open.  Hill demonstrates a ton of ability including his hands and ability to catch the ball in addition to his size and speed.  There are certainly areas Hill can continue to work on and improve as he has only played two years of college football, but his natural ability will make him an extremely attractive prospect in his first year as a draft eligible prospect.  He can improve his stock by getting more precise as a route runner and using his body more effectively to box out opponents.

Unfortunately, Hill suffered an ACL tear during spring ball practices in April and he could miss the entire 2013 season.  It is possible that he could opt to come out anyway but more than likely, it seems likely that Hill will red shirt this season and come back as a red shirt junior.  Based on what he has shown to this point, he looked like he would warrant a top 75 pick but with the ACL tear, he could easily fall into the early part of day three, though it is possible a team could still grab earlier as he will likely have time to recover in time to work out and prove his knee is healthy for him to be ready for the following season.  Hill could ultimately decide to come back next season at 100% where he might have the ability to be able to secure himself a spot in the first round, which would certainly not break anyone in Wildcat nation’s heart as they would like to see him play there for another year.

Vitals & Build

Hill is listed at 6’3” 211lbs with a nice big build for the position, but he is still just tapping into what he can do as far as physical development as he was just a true sophomore last year.  He is explosive and has impressive speed but he has the space on his frame to continue adding strength easily, especially in his upper body.  The potential appears to be there for him to develop into a truly imposing physical presence at the wide receiver position.

The knee injury obviously becomes a major obstacle in this process and it will be interesting to monitor his recovery and see how he ultimately chooses to proceed.  He does appear to have the time to recover and work out for the NFL before the draft should he want to go that route but he would probably be better off staying and coming back 100% next year and going much higher in the draft.

Route Running & Technique

When it comes to his stance, Hill has too many of them and they end up being problematic as a result.  Most commonly, he has an extremely long stance when his back foot way too far behind him and all of his weight on his front leg.  When the ball is snapped, he has to reposition his back foot closer to being under him so he can push off of it to go forward.  Hill could eliminate that step if he simply moves his back foot further up and has more even weight distribution so he can push off of at least one foot, but ideally both so all of his momentum is going forward on the snap.

There are times when he is lined up more evenly and it looks far better off of the snap.  He will also have times where he lined up with his head way down, almost like he is setting up in a three point stance, which has the same foot placement issues as before, so he just needs to settle on a stance that lets him be explosive on the line and just stick with it.  At times, he will have his hands up which is good because he can protect himself at the line of scrimmage against press, but it needs to be more consistent.

Coming off the line, Hill could do more to use his hands and arms to create separation when opponents are trying to play press against him and chuck him at the line.  His natural strength and size make it so he is often able to edge around the receiver and get back on his line quickly to stay in his route and be where his quarterback expects him to be.  Again, he could do more in terms of hand fighting, but that should come with more experience.  Cornerbacks in the NFL are much bigger and stronger, so he will need to do more or he will get jammed at the line and disrupt his timing on his routes.

Arizona has him operate out of the slot quite a bit, but he does have the ability to play on the outside and is better suited on the outside at the next level given his skill set.  Hill has shown he can operate over the middle, although he is not asked to do it a ton.  He is mostly working on the outside, even when they line him up in the slot, but his size and ability to catch the ball suggest he should be fine in that role.

The Wildcat offense does not run a conventional route tree for the most part.  They have some standard routes mixed in with their improvised routes.  He is capable of selling routes but his footwork and angles are not crisp at this point, so he does not take as much advantage of the moves he uses as he could.  He tends to round routes off a little too much going down the field.  Hill is able to get away with it for the most part because he is so explosive and possesses so much speed in addition to size but an area he can improve.

There is one route he does seem to consistently run effectively in terms of what the route demands.  The route calls for him to run about five to seven yards and then sell the inside cross with the intent of getting the cornerback to try to dive in and cut the route off, especially in the red zone or trying to extend a drive.  Hill then plants his foot, reverses course and goes directly outside where the ball is supposed to almost be on him immediately.  This route has been extremely effective for the Arizona offense and often times Hill ends up wide open in the process.

Hands

Hill has extremely natural hands to snatch the football out of the air.  He has shown a pretty large catch radius and is not only able to reach out and make catches but is extremely comfortable making catches over his head and going up to high point the football.  Hill has not really been asked to make too many catches low but from the midsection up, he has been terrific.

He seems more inclined to turn around and catch the ball going down the field as opposed to letting the ball go over his head and making the catch over his shoulder as he goes down the field.  While making the catching is obviously the most important factor, there are situations where he would be better off letting the ball keep going and settling under it to make the catch, so he can continue running with little or any stop in his course and cruise right on into the end zone.  There has been an example where turning around actually cost him because by turning around, he fell short with the ball going over his head.  Had he kept going forward, Hill would have been able to get in position to catch the ball.

If he is willing to do let the ball sail over his head to catch the ball, especially when the defender is trying to play a trail technique, it naturally boxes the opponent out.  In addition, if he slows down and the defender ends up running into him, it is defensive pass interference as opposed to being able to make a play on the football.

Hill has the hands to make plays, but now he needs to work on making more use of his body to box the opponent out away from the football and allow him to make plays more easily to take advantage of his his wide build.  The other area where Hill has shown to be extremely capable is having a sense of where the sideline is and how to position himself to catch the ball inbounds to make it count and works to get both feet in rather than just one to satisfy the college rule.

The other area Hill could improve is making the transition from catching the ball to securing the ball against his body.  Too often, he holds the ball too far away from his body and puts it in a position where savvier opponents are going to make more of an effort to jar the ball loose and potentially cause a fumble.

Run After Catch

Although Hill needs to do a better job of securing the ball against his body at times, he does make the switch from pass catcher to ball carrier pretty quickly and efficiently.  Hill can be a dynamic runner after the catch when he is aimed down the field or at an angle that enables him to continue working down the field.  He does not do a ton in terms of fancy moves or anything but is more of a straight line runner that sees lanes and keeps working to continue gaining yards.  When an opportunity presents itself, he will veer to the side to take advantage of blocks or just try to outrun the opponent but his style is not one that features a bunch of jump cuts or anything that could get him hit from behind.  Hill has the speed to take it all the way and it does not take a huge opening for him to make a team pay and he can pass defenders without too much trouble.

Hill does a good job of turning up the field when he catches the ball at or just outside the hash mark, so he can pick up extra yardage and there are situations where he has shown the ability to break through and take it all the way.  The Wildcats have also used him on bubble screens which have also allowed him to make plays near the sideline, but he is not a guy who makes too many guys miss in space at this point.

Hill is not that great of a runner after catch on plays that have him coming back to the quarterback and having his shoulders square to the line.  He has good acceleration and speed but he does not have tremendous short area quickness and with his size, he is a big target, so it makes it easier for opponents to hit him.  On those types of routes, he is more of a possession threat right now.

Going forward, in addition to simply securing the ball better, Hill could also do more to take advantage of his strength in terms of using a stiff arm, but he does do a good job of going forward when he takes contact, so he is able to extend plays and grab first downs.

Blocking

Hill’s blocking shows ability at times but he is not exactly excited to do it and it shows.  In situations where the play is going the other way, Hill is not afraid to go at the play with less than full effort and is basically taking a play to catch a break.  The problem with doing that is it gives away the play so the defenders can go over and help out, so potentially a play that might go all the way could be stopped by a defender crossing the field because Hill gave away the play.

When Hill is in position to block, he has a wide body and natural strength that makes him effective, but he runs into a few issues.  He tends to have his weight going too far forward and opponents are able to get out of them because he is off balance and he falls past them.  The fact that he wants to drive the opponent out of bounds is admirable but he needs to lock on and maintain his balance while doing it, so when he drives his legs, he is not going to lose the guy.  If he wants to do it, Hill can be a terrific blocker, but he is not the first receiver and will not be the last who is less than thrilled to be a blocker.  Should he embrace, it is one more attribute that makes him attractive in the NFL.

System Fit

Hill’s speed and explosiveness combined with his experience in the Wildcat offense might make him better suited to play in a vertical offense but there is nothing to say he would not also be able to excel in a horizontal one.  He has a ton of potential going forward because of his ability to catch the ball and his athletic ability.  Hill appears to be a player that could appeal to just about every team in the NFL whenever he decides to enter.

Schedule

Fri, Aug. 30 vs. Northern Arizona
Sat, Sept. 7 at UNLV
Sat, Sept. 14 vs. Texas San Antonio
Sat, Sept. 28 at Washington
Thu, Oct. 10 at USC
Sat, Oct. 19 vs. Utah
Sat, Oct. 26 at Colorado
Sat, Nov. 2 at Cal
Sat, Nov. 9 vs. UCLA
Sat, Nov. 16 vs. Washington State
Sat, Nov. 23 vs. Oregon
Sat, Nov. 30 at Arizona State

Notable Games

Although he can end up in the slot in the Wildcat offense, he could still have some snaps against some tremendous competition.  Torrin Harris from USC could end up covering him in spots and the Trojans should have good athletes all over the field anyway when the Wildcats go to the Coliseum which includes their safety Demetrius Wright.  Arguably the best pure cover corner in the country could be moved over to help against Hill in Ifo Ekpre-Olomu from Oregon.  The regular season finale is not only the battle for the state of Arizona in Tempe this year but the Sun Devils have Aldon Darby, a talented safety prospect that could help in trying to help cover Hill.

NFL Comparison

Hill’s skillset could have him looking similar to Josh Gordon of the Cleveland Browns.  Gordon’s path to the NFL was far different than Hill’s as he basically managed to fail upward with numerous failed drug tests, but his size and natural ability still had him go in the second round as a supplemental draft pick.  Gordon is an enormous wide receiver with the similar build as Hill as well as great speed and explosive ability.  Gordon’s upside only seems to be held in check by his own actions and Hill has not shown to have the same problem but he has similar qualities as a player in terms of incredible physical ability and the makings of a good technical player who can attack in all areas of the field.

Draft Projection

A healthy Austin Hill likely would have been a top 75 pick with his momentum heading further towards the first round with another year of development.  The knee injury is obviously a major setback and he could still ultimately declare and as long as he proves to be healthy before the draft, could still be a top 100 pick but the worst case scenario appears to be an early third day pick.  Hill will have to weigh that against the possibility of coming back to Arizona for another year as one of the top eligible receivers for the draft and potentially going as high as the first round.  With the CBA as it is now with rookie pay scales, there is certainly an argument for taking less now and getting to the second contract a year quicker, but that is a risk, so it will be interesting to see which path Hill takes.  Whenever he does come out, he has the makings of a terrific receiver, so there are more than a few people hoping for a fast and full recovery.

Topics: 2014 NFL Draft, Arizona Wildcats Football, Austin Hill, Wide Receivers

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