Because Stephen Hill set the track ablaze at Lucas Oil Stadium during the NFL scouting combine, he didn’t need to run another 40-yard dash at Georgia Tech’s Pro Day on Tuesday.
The throng of about 50 NFL representatives, which included Falcons coach Mike Smith and Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith, already knew that Hill was plenty fast enough to play professionally.
Hill ran the 40-yard dash officially in 4.36 seconds at the scouting combine. Some scouts had lower times. He also tied for first with an 11-foot-1 broad jump and had the fifth highest vertical leap at 39 inches.
The people on hand Tuesday wanted to see Hill run routes and catch the ball fluidly. Hill, from Miller Grove High and Lithonia, did not disappoint them.
Hill caught all 12 passes that were thrown to him by former Richmond quarterback Eric Ward, who had a brief stint with the Falcons. Hill made a few of his trademark acrobatic catches, but had none of the inexplicable drops that previously plagued him.
Using combine workouts and a strong Pro Day, Hill improved his draft status from a fringe player to one on the verge of moving into the first round of the NFL draft, which is set for April 26-28 in New York.
“I just had to show them that I could run routes instead of just running deep routes,” Hill said. “I just wanted to show that I had the good ability to get in and out of my breaks.”
Hill’s work with former Falcons receiver Terance Mathis paid off.
“It was a big point of emphasis,” Hill said. “We worked on breaks and cuts every single day. He pushed me to the limit.”
Now, all that is left for Hill is to make personal visits and conduct additional interviews with teams.
NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock was on hand for Hill’s workout. He studied all of Hill’s film before arriving for the workout. He saw the dazzling catches and the drops that frustrated the Tech fan base at times.
“I’m less concerned about his drops,” Mayock said. “He has some great hands catches. He’s a hands snatcher. He had five or six drops, two of which were in critical situations, I think against North Carolina and Clemson. That worries you a little bit, but when you watch him catch the football, it’s so natural.”
Mayock wanted to see Hill run routes, too.
“The issue with bigger receivers is just can [they] get in and out of breaks,” Mayock said. “When you watch him here, getting in and out of breaks, it’s really good. It’s raw, but you can see the ability.”
Some of the scouts have compared Hill with Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, who also played at Tech.
“I think he’ll carve his own path,” Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “They both are very talented and different. I think both will be very successful.”
Some contend that Tech’s offense is not wide receiver-friendly for pro prospects.
“If you’re a good player, they are going to find you,” Johnson said.
Johnson wanted Hill to stay in school, but now he’s a projected high draft pick.
“I don’t think he’s surprised me physically at all,” Johnson said. “I knew that he was a physical talent. I think where he’s really made the most progress within the last year and half is his maturity. There are a lot of things that go into it.
“Another year would have helped. He would have been closer to graduation, but it looks like he’s made the right decision.”
Other Tech players who took part were fullback Lucas Cox, running back Roddy Jones, wide receiver Tyler Melton, defensive end Jason Peters, cornerback Rashaad Reid, linebacker Steven Sylvester, defensive tackle Logan Walls and running back Embry Peeples.
“If I get brought in as a free agent, guys can make the team that way as well,” Jones said. “Victor Cruz was an undrafted free agent. There are always those stories. I certainly feel like I can be one of those stories.”