Austin Hill was a very good player for the Arizona Wildcats in 2012, ranking 2nd in receiving yards in the prolific Pac-12 conference. He finished the year as a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award, given to the best receiver in college football. Rather than declare early as a possible Day 2 selection in the 2013 draft, Hill returned to Arizona for his junior season. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL in April 2013.
He missed the subsequent season and returned in 2014, struggling to make his mark and not approaching the numbers achieved as a redshirt sophomore two years prior. After placing as the 2nd-most prolific conference receiver in 2012, Hill ended his last college season 3rd on his own team.
Who is Austin Hill? He’s a big receiver with athleticism, ranking in the 64th SPARQ percentile at 6’2″, 214 and a near-Seahawk corner wingspan. Let’s look at his athletic comparisons.
The Alshon Jeffery comp should be made with several caveats, the main issue being the significant difference in 40 time. A tenth is an eon in an NFL receiver’s 40 time, and Austin Hill’s 4.58 does not look like appetizing. My belief is that he was faster than the 4.58 before the injury, but we don’t know if he’ll ever recover that. He may just be a 4.58 guy. That’s why he wasn’t drafted. The rest of the comparison is quite close, and Hill actually had a slightly faster 10-split than Alshon. I’m also not claiming that Hill will be anywhere near Alshon Jeffery. This is merely intended to point out the athletic profile that he possesses.
Like every other undrafted free agent, the odds stacked against Austin Hill are massive. But consider the following, per Sports-Reference.com:
Austin Hill’s stats from 2012, his best season:
13 games played, 81 receptions for 1364 yards (16.8 ypc) and 11 touchdowns
Kevin Norwood’s career stats at Alabama:
49 games played, 81 receptions for 1275 yards (15.7 ypc) and 12 touchdowns.
Those are real numbers. Austin Hill had as many catches in one season as Kevin Norwood had in his entire career at Alabama. He also gained more receiving yardage and scored only 1 fewer touchdown considering the same time frame, playing 36 fewer games.
It should be noted that Norwood played at Alabama and Hill in the Pac-12, and that distinction is significant. I’m not sure it’s significant enough to account for one player doing in 3 or 4 seasons what another did in 13. Even without Norwood’s sparse freshman statistics included out, he only accumulated 78/1200/11 in 36 games.
Austin Hill is two years younger than Kevin Norwood and both are effectively rookies heading in the 2015 season. My point isn’t that stats are some all-encompassing way to evaluate prospects heading into the NFL, but the glaring disparity here should be at least considered.
Both of these prospects are big wide receivers, but one of them is two years younger, more athletic, and possesses a far greater track record of production. The “Round 4” tag worn by Norwood is still meaningful to many, but he’s already had a long Seattle career relative to that of 2013 pick Chris Harper.
I enjoyed watching Austin Hill for the parts of 2012 where he wasn’t torching my alma mater for a 53-yard touchdown and 52-17 final score. This was one of the best receivers in a passing conference, and his fortune only fell to the “8th” round because of injury. His pro day results indicate that he may have finally regained his athletic ability, and I wouldn’t bet against him beating out Kevin Norwood (or possibly another Seattle WR, in fairness) if Austin Hill is Austin Hill again.