FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Stephen Hill could be in his final days with the New York Jets.
The disappointing wide receiver is expected to play Thursday night in the final preseason game, a clear indication his roster spot is in jeopardy. Starters and key reserves don’t play in the annual Backup Bowl against the Philadelphia Eagles. Hill was granted that status is his first two years, when he was a big-shot, second-round pick with a bright future. Now he’ll be grinding with the other marginal players, trying to convince the Jets — or another team — he still can be a legit player in the league.
The Jets should trade him. Yep, that’s what they should do. Put him on the block and see what he can fetch. Maybe they’ll get lucky and deal him for an experienced cornerback with a pulse. It wouldn’t be a surprise at all if they try to move Hill, who, despite his lack of production, has some value because of his draft pedigree. He’s big and fast, and the NFL likes big and fast even if he doesn’t have the stats to show for it.
“I think there would be some interest,” an AFC personnel executive said. “There aren’t a lot of free-agent wide receivers out there, so it’s supply and demand.”
You’d be stunned to know how much the Jets wanted Hill in the 2012 draft. They wound up picking him 43rd overall, after trading up, but he was rated so highly on their draft board that he would’ve been a consideration with the 16th pick if Quinton Coples wasn’t available.
Clearly, their scouts goofed, thinking an unpolished receiver with only 28 catches in his final season was one of the top 16 players in the draft. At the time, the Jets’ top scout, Joey Clinkscales, said Hill’s size-speed combination reminded him of another former Georgia Tech wideout, Calvin Johnson. Yes, that Calvin Johnson — aka MegaTron. Talk about a kiss-of-death comparison.
Clinkscales is now an executive with the Oakland Raiders, and he should be the first person the Jets call after putting Hill on the trading block. The two teams play on opening day, but do you really think the Jets are worried about Hill coming back to haunt them?
The Jets have some tough decisions to make at receiver. Eric Decker, Jeremy Kerley and David Nelson, none of whom will play against the Eagles, are locks. Now that he’s healthy, rookie Jalen Saunders, a fourth-round pick, is a virtual lock. Saalim Hakim has emerged as the leading kickoff returner, so he has the inside track on a roster spot. That leaves Hill, Greg Salas and Clyde Gates for the sixth spot, assuming there is a sixth spot.
“They’re still battling for roster spots, and it’s not a slam dunk to say it’s going to be this player or that player,” Rex Ryan said. “It’s probably close in a couple of situations.”
Asked if Hill’s spot is up in the air, Ryan said, “Again, there is still competition, and there is still competition for roster spots.”
If the decision comes down to Hill versus Salas, it should be a no-brainer. Clearly, Salas has outperformed Hill. John Idzik’s meritocracy would take a big hit if the underachieving high draft pick makes it over the deserving journeyman.
After two years, the Jets know what they have in Hill. He’s a one-trick pony, a vertical threat who may or may not catch the ball. He’ll block, but he won’t fight for contested balls. He doesn’t play special teams, which means there’s no point in dressing him on game day unless he’s a regular in the receiver rotation. The fans are on to him. The crowds in Cortland, New York, and Florham Park gave him a hard time when he dropped the ball. It’s time for a change of scenery.
By the way, Hill has missed two days of practice due to an illness. On Monday, he was sent home after vomiting. Foreshadowing? Perhaps.