Mehta: Tough Hill to climb for young Jets receiver

By on December 13, 2013
 Stephen Hill is slow to develop after being taken in second round of 2012 draft. PHOTO BY GETTY

Nick Laham/Getty Images

Stephen Hill is slow to develop after being taken in second round of 2012 draft.

The pain from watching Alshon Jeffery’s jaw-dropping collection of catches will resonate on One Jets Drive for the better part of this decade. The Bears’ breakout star wide receiver will be a constant reminder of what could have been for a team in desperate need of difference-makers on offense.

Most of the members of the braintrust that chose Stephen Hill over Jeffery two years ago are gone, but the stain from that draft-day blunder has made new GM John Idzik’s job to rebuild this team that much harder.

Jeffery has emerged as one of the game’s promising young stars, making one eye-opening play after the next. Hill has become a less-than-durable, underachieving afterthought.

“It doesn’t look good,” Rex Ryan said of his second-year receiver’s rate of development. “Obviously, when you look at the numbers, it looks like he’s not progressing.”

The Jets aren’t the only team looking foolish for passing on Jeffery, who has 75 receptions for 1,193 yards and six touchdowns and made journeyman quarterback Josh McCown look like Aaron Rodgers Monday night. The 49ers’ mistake of drafting bust A.J. Jenkins ahead of Jeffery is mitigated by their success in the past two seasons. The Jets’ offense, of course, needs all the help it can get.

The Rams selected Brian Quick with the first pick of the second round, 10 picks before the Jets’ colossal misstep of trading up with the Seahawks to take Hill with the 43rd selection. The Bears took Jeffery two picks later. (The Giants took Rueben Randle 20 spots after Hill with the last pick of the second round). Whiffing on Hill, whose status for Sunday’s game at Carolina is in doubt with a knee issue that kept him out of last week’s victory over the Raiders, has had a ripple effect.

Hill’s ineffectiveness has helped cloud the evaluation of Geno Smith. Put Jeffery on the Jets and then tell me what you think of the rookie quarterback. The Jets will almost certainly have to use one of their top two picks in the draft on a wide receiver.

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Injury and inconsistency have both plagued Hill in his brief NFL career.

Mark Bonifacio/New York Daily News

Injury and inconsistency have both plagued Hill in his brief NFL career.

Although Smith commendably took the blame for Hill’s disappearing act this season — “I’ve got to put the ball in better spots for him and allow him to make those plays” — the reality is that Hill simply isn’t good enough yet to be a consistent threat.

Some in the organization wonder if he’ll ever even be a legitimate No. 2 receiver.

Hill’s work ethic isn’t in question. By all accounts, he’s a diligent worker eager to disprove critics that said the learning curve would be too big coming from Georgia Tech’s run-centric system. The Jets gambled. Not many receivers with 49 career college receptions are taken in the second round.

Ryan pointed out many receivers blossom in their third seasons, but raise your hand if you believe Hill will magically turn it on next season.

“It’s early in the process.” Ryan said. “By year three, I think that’s the big one. You’ll know if this guy really hit it, this guy maybe hasn’t been as good. Certainly by the numbers, I understand that you expect a certain amount of production. But there’s some contributing factors here.”

Hill’s rookie season ended prematurely due to an LCL sprain. He appeared fully recovered from knee surgery by the summer.

“He had a great training camp and we were all excited,” Ryan said. “I know I was excited about seeing him make those steps.”

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It's not like Hill hasn't shown promise, it's that he hasn't shown it often enough.

Robert Sabo/New York Daily News

It’s not like Hill hasn’t shown promise, it’s that he hasn’t shown it often enough.

Ryan & Co. are still waiting, while Jeffery is thriving. The Bears wideout has nearly as many yards (572) and touchdowns (three) in the past five weeks as Hill has in his career (594 yards and four TDs). Hill has topped 50 yards only four times in 23 career games. He’s been held without a catch in an eye-opening 39 percent of his games. Hill has eight catches for 197 yards and three TDs in two games against the Bills. He’s averaged just 19 yards in 21 games.

Ryan wouldn’t definitively rule out the possibility that Hill, who didn’t practice on Wednesday, may be shut down for the final three games of the season due to swelling in his knees that have robbed him of his speed.

“I think we’ve all been like, ‘What’s going on here?’ ” Ryan said. “He was practicing. He’s gutting it out. He’s tough. He’ll do those things. But how much that’s helped him? Obviously, it hasn’t helped him a whole lot.”

The Jets had visions of Calvin Johnson dancing in their heads. Same school, size and speed. But it hasn’t materialized.

Hill immediately embraced the New York spotlight, leading fans in a J-E-T-S chant from the Radio City Music Hall stage two years ago.

“I’m ready to give the Jet fans something to scream about,” Hill said at the time.

He has, but not in the way he imagined.

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