As we begin the countdown to the NFL Draft starting on May 8, I will spend anywhere from 4-8 hours to break down the strengths and weaknesses of at least the top 20 or so offensive skill-position prospects available in this draft.
Hands: 10 1/4”
Important NFL Combine Numbers
40-Yard Dash: 4.66
Vertical Jump: 29”
Broad Jump: 9’ 5”
20-Yard Shuttle: N/A
Background (College Stats)
Hill was considered a four-star athlete and 21st-best running back in the country by Rivals.com in 2011 recruiting class, but his narrative really began as a senior in high school off the field. Without getting into the sordid details of the incident (summarized nicely by CBS Sportsline national columnist Gregg Doyel), Hill eventually pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of carnal knowledge of a juvenile. LSU coach Les Miles honored his scholarship offer anyway and Hill sat out the 2011 fall semester as a result. The Baton Rouge native stayed out of trouble in 2012 and became the first freshman to lead the Tigers in rushing (755 yards) since Justin Vincent in 2003. Unfortunately, a then-still-underage Hill ended up in the news again in August 2013 due to a simple battery charge for punching a man in the head outside of a bar. That incident ultimately led to a two-year probation (since lifted) and Miles made the curious decision to leave it up to Hill’s teammates as to whether or not they would allow the Tigers’ top back on the team before the start of the season. Once his teammates “unanimously” – in the words of Miles – agreed to let Hill return, Miles handed Hill what amounted to a 1 ½-game suspension at the start of the 2013 campaign. The third-year sophomore started to take control of the LSU backfield the week after his return and went on to post some gaudy numbers, running for 1,401 yards (second-most in school history), a 6.9 yard-per-carry average (an SEC record) and 16 touchdowns. The second-team all-conference selection put an exclamation point on his final college season in the Tigers’ 21-14 Outback Bowl victory over Iowa, turning 28 carries into 216 yards and two touchdowns.
NFL Player Comp(s): A rich man’s LeGarrette Blount
- Hard-charging between-the-tackles back that breaks a lot of tackles and keeps his legs driving through contact.
- Downhill runner who attacks the hole and can make a defender miss with a spin move or by leaping over them (will not string back-to-back moves together, however).
- Solidly-built back with quicker feet and better long speed than most backs his size.
- Wasn’t used much as a receiver or a pass blocker and needs to develop in both areas, but is hardly a liability at either; showed the ability to be a solid check-down option when needed.
- Ball security (committed only one fumble in college, but did not lose it).
- Age (21) and career workload (371 touches).
- Character (arrested twice while in college).
- Lacks elusiveness and speed is of the build-up variety; will likely require a complementary “space” back as he struggles when forced to go east-west.
- Runs higher than he should on occasion and doesn’t always “keep his feet”, negating some of the size/strength he typically enjoys on linebackers and/or defensive backs.
- Runs up the heels of his blockers too often.
- Could be playing with fire in terms of ball control; has huge hands, but holds the ball with just one – often even when fighting for extra yards and in traffic.
Hill is easily a better prospect than Blount, but it has been suggested the former might be the “second coming” of Steven Jackson if he keeps his nose clean and fully commits to being the best he can be. Suffice it to say that his while Hill’s potential upside exceeds Blount’s, he is nowhere close to where Jackson was coming out of Oregon State. (At his best, Hill’s NFL career could mimic that of Cedric Benson’s.) The second-team All-SEC selection is a better athlete and has more lateral agility and speed than the Pittsburgh Steelers’ new backup running back, although he, like Blount, is highly athletic for a big back and a runner that should be enjoy a fairly long career as an early-down option. Where Hill differs from his NFL comp is that he has already shown the ability to catch the ball in limited opportunities and is a better short-yardage/goal-line option. With that said, it is hard to see Hill prospering in the NFL in anything outside of a downhill, power-based running scheme because he is well below-average moving east-west and doesn’t possess the kind of above-average burst a back usually needs to get through the hole consistently on outside zone runs. Although there is plenty to like about Hill’s on-field exploits, his power isn’t nearly enough to push him to the top of the draft class at his position. He is firmly behind Carlos Hyde and Bishop Sankey (considered by many the top two backs available in the 2014 NFL Draft) and fits somewhere in the second tier of running backs available in May, especially after considering his off-field history.