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INDIANAPOLIS — "The NFL Draft starts in Mobile."
As the saying goes, NFL Draft events annually begin down in Mobile, Ala., at the Senior Bowl, and one of the players who performed at a high level during the showcase last week was former Ohio State wide receiver K.J. Hill.
One of the 2020 NFL Draft's most complete wideouts, Hill put his talents on display in front of teams and evaluators, immediately turning heads.
In four seasons in Columbus with the Buckeyes, the fifth-year senior amassed 201 receptions for 2,332 yards (11.6 avg.) and 20 touchdowns. He also had 46 punt returns for 258 yards (5.6 avg.) and eight kickoff returns for 160 yards (20.0 avg.).
Named a team captain by his teammates as a redshirt senior, Hill finished his career first all-time in school history in receptions, and sixth in both receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. He was even able to put up 70 receptions for 885 yards and six touchdowns in 2018 despite sharing the field with current Colts receiver Parris Campbell and Washington Redskins star Terry McLaurin.
Hill was durable and reliable during his time at Ohio State, only missing two games in his career due to an ankle sprain in 2016. Otherwise, he appeared in 14 games in each of the last three seasons, playing in 50 total in his career.
He has adequate size at 6-0 and 192 pounds, and is well built with a thick lower body that gives him sort of a running back's body. While his size is perfectly fine, he doesn't have the type of "go up and get it" size and therefore didn't see many 50-50 ball opportunities.
Hill is versatile, able to go in motion and line up all along the formation — slot, inside slot or outside on the boundary.
Without elite size or speed, Hill wins his matchups before the ball is even in the air. He understands how to set up the cornerback before engaging with them and makes moves off of their movements and tendencies to gain leverage. Hill runs a wide variety of routes, and makes quick, sudden cuts in his routes that look seamless and natural. Overall, he is a very crisp route runner who displays sudden feet. It's the strong point of his game.
"I feel like I just stuck with my strengths. My strength was route running so I wanted to get even better at it every time I could," Hill told Zach Hicks of Stampede Blue at the Senior Bowl. "Getting with guys like Michael Thomas, Terry McLaurin, Parris Campbell and working with the best on it. Coach Hartline came in and took my game to another level also with everything else so I felt like a combination of all that helped me out."
With his technical skills and the amount of experience he has, Hill knows when to ad-lib when the play is breaking down so he can get open for his quarterback.
While Hill doesn't have elite speed, he has enough to stretch the field and get open deep. It's also not uncommon to see him exploit a breakdown in coverage downfield and make a play.
To go along with his work before the catch, Hill has strong, natural hands and rarely drops the ball. When he does, they're usually concentration drops in tough situations where he's focusing too much on what to do after the catch.
Hill looks for extra yards after the catch, whether it's a quick juke or keeping his feet pumping to try and get through poor tackle attempts. He's not a Dante Hall in the open field who's going to make a lot of guys miss, but Hill is determined and understands how to apply effective short-area moves.
The icing on the cake for Hill is that, like most Ohio State receivers, he gives good effort as a blocker and is effective in that area.
It's very evident that Hill is a naturally gifted football player (and was considered a "highly regarded basketball player" in high school), and his swagger on the field reflects that. He plays with a lot of confidence and a chip on his shoulder, coming off as an alpha in pretty much everything he does on the field. His energy and attitude is contagious, which is likely one reason he was voted as a Buckeyes team captain in 2019.
FIT WITH THE COLTS
First and foremost, the Colts dealt with a lot of injuries to their wide receiver corps in 2019. Between Devin Funchess (15), Campbell (nine), T.Y. Hilton (six), tight end Eric Ebron (five) and Chester Rogers (four), they missed a combined 39 games. They lost Daurice Fountain — who was dominating on a daily basis in training camp — to a major ankle injury before the season began, and things also did not work out with Deon Cain, who had a lot of buzz surrounding him in his first two summers in Indianapolis, but was waived during the regular season.
Entering the 2020 offseason, only Hilton, Zach Pascal, Campbell, Ashton Dulin and Chad Williams are under contract and have NFL experience while Ebron (UFA), Funchess (UFA), Rogers (UFA), Dontrelle Inman (UFA), Marcus Johnson (ERFA) and Fountain (ERFA) are all set to become free agents.
Hill could not only provide immediate depth for a Colts receiver group that could use it, but the strengths in his game show a player who should not have much issue translating in the NFL and who could contribute right away.
Similar to Pascal, while Hill could primarily be looked at as a possession receiver because of his route running and strong hands, he truly knows how to win just about anywhere on the field. Also like Pascal, blocking is not something seen as optional. The Colts veteran was the best run-blocking full-time wide receiver in the NFL last year according to Pro Football Focus, and the second-best pass blocker. Adding another effective blocker at receiver in Hill could further open up a Colts' run game that already surpassed 2,000 yards last year for the first time 1994.
When it comes to the traits Colts general manager Chris Ballard has coveted in his draft picks since taking over in 2017, Hill checks several boxes: he was a team captain, he's a high-effort player who loves football, he can play special teams, he is a receiver who's at least six-feet tall, he tries to pick up yards after the catch and he would make it four straight years that the Colts have drafted a Buckeye.
"I would love it," Hill told Hicks (with a big smile on his face) about being drafted by the Colts. "You have some guys on the team that could help me like they would always do, some big brothers (former Buckeyes Campbell, Tyquan Lewis and Malik Hooker), so I would love to be a Colt."