New York Jets rookie wide receiver Stephen Hill will start across from Santonio Holmes on Sunday, according to head coach Rex Ryan. Rex Ryan updated the injury status of multiple players, including Eric Smith, Dustin Keller and Sione Pouha, but also dropped a few notes about the starting lineup for this weekend's tilt at MetLife Stadium with the Buffalo Bills. The most interesting one is that Stephen Hill will start his first NFL game.
The New York Jets decision to start rookie wide receiver Stephen Hill is an interesting one, though not necessarily a surprising one. Stephen Hill hasn't been lights out so far, dropping some fairly easy catches in the preseason, but he is a prototypical starting wide receiver in terms of physical talent. Stephen Hill has the size, speed and strength to be a nightmare matchup for opposing cornerbacks.
That's the value of Stephen Hill right now. Until he develops further, Stephen Hill's greatest contribution to the Jets offense will be the threat of what he can do and the way defenses need to react to that threat. If defenses elect to leave him single-covered without safety help, all it takes is one play for Stephen Hill to get behind the defense and completely change field position, if not put six points on the board. That's going to take some of the defense's attention away from Santonio Holmes, and could possibly force both safeties to play the Jets honestly and stay out of the box.
Last season, teams didn't respect Plaxico Burress until the Jets got near the red zone. He didn't have the speed to beat teams deep, so defenses were comfortable leaving their cornerbacks on an island with him. Beyond that, the Jets didn't throw the ball deep, so teams had no reason to respect that deep pass. The Jets have shown a willingness to throw the ball deep in the preseason, and now have two legitimate deep threats that need to be respected. That should help the running game and the short passing game by backing off the safeties, helping the numbers game inside and opening up some throwing windows.
The move makes sense in terms of the skill sets of the other wide receivers the Jets have as well. Jeremy Kerley is a natural slot receiver, smaller and shiftier, with reliable hands and a knack for getting open. Kerley is a punt returner and has that kind of running style, making him a natural fit for turning short passes into long gains. Chaz Schilens and Patrick Turner give the Jets big bodies as a fourth receiver and recently acquired Clyde Gates brings pure speed.
The Buffalo Bills have a very good secondary, but any cornerback they put on Stephen Hill will be at a significant size disadvantage. Aaron Williams and rookie Stephon Gilmore are the tallest cornerbacks the Bills have at 6-0, giving Stephen Hill a four-inch height advantage. Of course, Hill still has to actually catch the ball, which has been a bit of an adventure.
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