The wide receiver who could end up the biggest 2020 NFL draft steal

All the talk about the loaded wide receiver class in the 2020 NFL draft likely means that there will be a few players at the position who are drafted lower than they would in a typical year.

There’s one receiver from last week’s Senior Bowl who proved to be more than capable of standing out at a fairly strong group (even with no underclassmen there), and it’s a prospect who could end up being an unfair victim of this draft’s rare WR talent.

Ohio State’s K.J. Hill isn’t a physical specimen at 6-foot and 192 pounds with 29-inch arms (considered well below average) and nine-inch hands. He also isn’t expected to run fast or work out particularly well at the NFL scouting combine. Hill’s role even got lost a bit on his own team, even while leading the Buckeyes in catches last season and grabbing 10 TDs. He might only be a slot receiver on the next level.

But Hill has the kind of reliability factor you just can’t overlook when it comes to his NFL projection. For all the physical marvels in this WR class, there aren’t five wideouts with better hands than Hill. There might not be five better route runners.

Hill has only one penalty in his past three seasons combined. He’s only had two fumbles in four years. Hill has worked with three different primary quarterbacks over the past three seasons, and his effectiveness has only increased.

What makes Hill so polished

One of the reasons he should come into the NFL ready-made is because Hill is a fifth-year senior who worked with two of the best offensive-minded coaches in college football in Urban Meyer and Ryan Day, along with maybe the best WR coach in college in Brian Hartline.

The best thing Hill did a year ago was go back to school, reportedly implored to do so by former OSU great Cris Carter. That allowed Hill to continue working at his craft and becoming the route ninja and ball vacuum he’s become.

Ohio State K.J. Hill could get lost in a historically great WR class in the 2020 NFL draft,  but he shouldn't. (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Ohio State K.J. Hill could get lost in a historically great WR class in the 2020 NFL draft, but he shouldn't. (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

As a fifth-year senior, Hill has been through a clear development program in Columbus and could fall in line with 2019 OSU draft picks such as Parris Campbell and Terry McLaurin. Both of those players looked to be pro-ready when they stepped into the lineups of the Indianapolis Colts and Washington Redskins, respectively. Campbell was slowed by injuries last year, nothing more. We expect him to have a strong Year 2 in the NFL.

And if you throw in other recent Buckeyes draft picks such as Curtis Samuel and — the ultimate example — Michael Thomas as players whose college receiving production wasn’t mind-blowing, it’s easy to see how Hill could be an even better pro than collegian.

The comp that keeps coming up

Hill has his limitations physically and often will line up across from defensive backs that are faster and quicker (and perhaps bigger) than he is. But with his route savviness, his terrific hands and his ability to work the middle of the field, Hill has all the earmarks of a player who belies those limitations in the NFL.

Watching him this season on tape and live in Mobile, I kept coming back to one name for my comp: Jarvis Landry.

Hill and Landry were nearly identical height and weight coming out, although Landry had bigger hands and longer arms. But Landry’s combine and pro day workouts were shockingly poor (even with a hamstring injury hurting him in Indianapolis) in some regards, and it caused him to fall to the bottom of Round 2. Even that felt high to some teams who put more stock in Landry’s slow 40 (4.58), plus his low marks in the three-cone drill and the broad and high jumps.

But like Landry, Hill can’t be graded with a stopwatch. The old saying — go watch the tape — holds truer with him than any prospect at the position this draft cycle.

K.J. Hill still produced

Landry was ultra-productive his final year at LSU, even outpacing Odell Beckham Jr. there in catches, yards and TDs. It was similar to Hill this season playing alongside the incredibly gifted Chris Olave, who could be a top pick in 2021 should he come out. The Buckeyes also had three other talented receivers who played a lot — Binjimen Victor, Austin Mack and freshman Garrett Wilson — plus good receiving options at tight end (Jeremy Ruckert and Luke Farrell) and running back (J.K. Dobbins).

Did you realize that Hill is the Buckeyes’ all-time leading receiver? He broke the mark of David Boston, set in the late 1990s, and ended up sixth in yards and touchdowns as well. That’s saying something for a school that has produced the likes of Santonio Holmes, Ted Ginn Jr., Joey Galloway, Terry Glenn, Michael Jenkins, Carter and Thomas, among others. The Buckeyes have had 40 receivers drafted since the NFL merger — more than one per year — and half of them were taken in the top 100 picks.

The amazing thing is that it’s no guarantee Hill lands in the top 100 this year. But his talent, production and reliability all lead me to believe that, almost no matter where he ends up being taken, Hill has a great chance to outplay his draft position.

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