The 2012 NFL Draft is approximately a month and a half away and it should surprise nobody that Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay have both hopped on the Stephen Hill bandwagon. Both prognosticators put together their third mock drafts of the year with the NFL Combine officially in our rear view mirror. They're both Insider protected, but I'll give you a quick taste of what they had to say about the 49ers pick of Hill at No. 30.
Hill set Indy ablaze, going sub-4.4 in the 40 while measuring 6-foot-4. San Francisco, meet the deep threat you've been looking for. It's no secret the 49ers need more out of their wide receivers, and Hill brings a new aspect to the table, with elite size and track speed to stretch defenses both for himself, and to open up things underneath. He'll need an adjustment period as he gets used to a more conventional offense, but some team is going to fall in love with the measurables.
This is a bit high for a raw prospect like Hill, but with the Patriots and so many other teams looking for size and the ability to stretch the field it won't surprise me to see him off the board this early. Hill (6-4, 215) showed flashes of his big-play ability in 2011 (28 catches, 820 yards), and he had one of the best combine workouts I've ever seen from a wide receiver. The 49ers have a bigger need at cornerback, but with Joshua Morgan and Ted Ginn headed for free agency they could be left with Michael Crabtree and a whole lot of nothing at receiver when draft day rolls around.
Both absolutely love his raw skills, particularly when it comes to stretching the field. McShay makes a good point that Hill had an all around strong Combine, including his work in the wide receiver drills. One such drill is the gauntlet where the receiver runs down catching balls coming at him from the left and right. I caught some of that and he looked as sharp as anybody.
Hill comes out of a triple option offense, which partially explains his mere 28 catches. But that 820 yards on those 28 catches is eye-popping. He can make serious plays after the catch and brings significant size to the position. Having a big, speedy receiver stretching the defense could very well be the ticket to opening up the middle of the field even more for Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis. We saw Davis turn into a monster deep threat in the playoffs, but if you have a more tradition deep threat, it becomes all the easier to get Vernon the ball underneath and let him use his rare combination of size and strength to pick up his own big YAC.
Of course, the 49ers were absent from Hill's Pro Day, so we are left to speculate if the team would draft him. The 49ers have a host of needs they could address in the first round, whether it be wide receiver, cornerback or right guard, among others. We'll get a bit of a better glimpse into the possibilities in a week after the 49ers get started in free agency. Or, given last year's free agency plan, maybe it'll take a second week.