NFL Draft 2012: The Difference Between Real and Raw College Prospects

Hype may be what drives the media and fans, but when viewed without valid counter-point, it can cause something just shy of hysteria. Whipped into a frenzy by oft times innocuous statistics, fans clamor to be the first to find a future NFL star and call out their name to anyone willing to hear. The NFL Combine each year has become the football version of primordial ooze; players crawling out of obscurity to walk upright on professional football's limited Earth...

What seems to always shock me, is the number of players who suddenly garner high praise by NFL scouts and media draft-nicks based on little or no evidence at all? Many are, more often than not, the product of well staged events that elevate them, not a history of excellence throughout a storied college career. A case in point could be Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill. Very few talked about Hill in high tones before the NFL Combine. His single claim to fame was a linkage to the school that produced Demaryius Thomas of the Denver Broncos, whose resume doesn't include much more than a single spectacular touchdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL playoffs.

What Hill and Thomas really have in common is this line in a pre-draft analysis. Tell me who it was written for just by reading it before you hit the link for the answer:

"... has rare measurables for the wide receiver position and will be a very attractive gamble for some team after the first round. He shows excellent vertical speed..."

Hill is 6' 5" and 206 lbs, versus Thomas' 6' 3" and 227 lbs. They both have a similar 40 time, 4.31 for Hill, and a projected 4.38** for Thomas. Where they vastly differ, is what they accomplished in college. Thomas' stats in college, by a margin so large that it borders on absurdity, blows Hill away...

Take a close look at the number of receptions category. Neither player really could have been called the "go to guy" on their college team. Both had really impressive average yards per catch numbers, but of the two, only Thomas showed a real relevance to Georgia Tech's offense. During the research I've done on Hill, their was one overriding thought among those that wrote about him coming out of college: Why did he file for the Draft? I think Heather Dinich of ESPN's ACC blog said it best:

"...When former Georgia Tech receiver Stephen Hill decided to leave school early for the NFL draft, it was one of the more eyebrow-raising decisions in the ACC -- not because Hill was bad, but was he really that good? He obviously had big-play capabilities (29.3 yards per reception), but nothing about his 2011 season screamed first-round draft pick. He only caught 28 passes." - Heather Dinich, ESPN

Stats and Charts Courtesy of Rivals.com

Demaryius Thomas College Career Stats

2009 OPPONENTS No Yds Avg TD
Jacksonville St. (Sep. 5) 4 101 25.3 0
Clemson (Sep. 10) 3 93 31.0 1
at Miami-FL (Sep. 17) 6 133 22.2 1
North Carolina (Sep. 26) 3 35 11.7 0
at Miss. State (Oct. 3) 8 174 21.8 1
at Florida State (Oct. 10) 2 84 42.0 1
Virginia Tech (Oct. 17) 1 51 51.0 0
at Virginia (Oct. 24) 3 76 25.3 0
at Vanderbilt (Oct. 31) 4 76 19.0 1
Wake Forest (Nov. 7) 3 38 12.7 0
at Duke (Nov. 14) 2 89 44.5 1
Georgia (Nov. 28) 5 127 25.4 1
at Clemson (Dec. 5) 2 77 38.5 1
Iowa (Jan. 5)

Statistics No Yds Avg TD
2009 46 1,154 25.1 8
2008 39 627 16.1 3
2007 35 558 15.9 4
2006 0 0 0.0 0
Career 120 2,339 19.5 15

Stats and Chart courtesy of ESPN

Stephen Hill's Careers and 2011 Stats

2011 GAME LOG RECEIVING RUSHING
DATE OPP RESULT REC YDS AVG LNG TD ATT YDS AVG LNG TD
9/1 Western Carolina W 63-21 4 181 45.3 82 2 0 0 0.0 0 0
9/10 @Middle Tennessee W 49-21 3 126 42.0 71 1 0 0 0.0 0 0
9/17 Kansas W 66-24 1 4 4.0 4 0 0 0 0.0 0 0
9/24 North Carolina W 35-28 6 151 25.2 59 1 0 0 0.0 0 0
10/1 @North Carolina State W 45-35 1 40 40.0 40 0 1 5 5.0 5 0
10/8 Maryland W 21-16 2 50 25.0 34 0 0 0 0.0 0 0
10/15 @Virginia L 24-21 0 0 0.0 0 0 1 24 24.0 24 0
10/22 @Miami (FL) L 24-7 1 9 9.0 9 0 0 0 0.0 0 0
10/29 Clemson W 31-17 2 47 23.5 44 0 1 -2 -2.0 0 0
11/10 Virginia Tech L 37-26 2 43 21.5 41 0 0 0 0.0 0 0
11/19 @Duke W 38-31 1 56 56.0 56 0 0 0 0.0 0 0
11/26 Georgia L 31-17 3 78 26.0 36 0 0 0 0.0 0 0
HYUNDAI SUN BOWL
12/31 @Utah L 30-27 (OT) 2 35 17.5 31 1 1 2 2.0 2 0

RECEIVING G REC YARDS YDS/REC LONG TD YDS/G
2009 13 6 137 22.8 53 1 1.5
2010 12 15 291 19.4 79 3 24.3
2011 13 28 820 29.3 82 5 63.1
TOTAL 38 49 1248 25.5 82 9 32.8

So why did I pound you with all these statistics about Hill and Thomas? I draw a line back to the very first sentence of this article: It's about hype versus hysteria. For you literal-ists, don't take my use of the word "hysteria" to imply that people who fall for hype are running down life's avenue ranting and raving. Hysteria here can be seen in arbitrarily heightened draft day value.

Hill was a late second round, high third round prospect at best with the dreaded "raw talent" tag attached before the NFL Combine. How did his draft stock rise so fast? One school of thought is based on the draft's top wide receiver prospect, Justin Blackmon, decision to not run at the Combine. It left everyone looking for speed in someone else, and Hill had a very good day, running a 4.31 40 yard dash. It was enough to ignite a spark, that some saw as a flame...

I'm not picking on Hill. I'm calling into question how we all - me included - suddenly assign value to player based on so little valid cause. Sure, it's fun to look for greatness; to imagine a player joining a favored team as it builds toward being a champion. It's not a secret that I, and many like me (you know who you are!), envy teams that seem to find gifted players with clock-like regularity, while my own favored team seems to wallow in mediocrity on NFL Draft day. I honestly think fans would rather see a seventh round draft pick become a star, than a highly touted first round pick for the most part. We love the dark horse. We love the rags-to-riches guy who fought against all odds to make his dreams of playing in the NFL come true. ( See: Arian Foster)

Yet in the weeks and month before the NFL Draft, we seem to latch onto players for one reason or other, only to see their portent fade by that fateful day at the end of April. I think Hill will be one of these. The headlines will fade, the flame that was will be seen as only a spark. Then the "I told you" whiplash will begin, as hype transforms into what "coulda-shoulda" been...

Now that the St. Louis Rams have a newly acquired trove draft picks, they have an opportunity to achieve something with their new found wealth few NFL teams have ever possessed. If fans have learned anything about the NFL Draft, it's that the degree of separation between prospect and future pro is thinner than thin.

The bottom line? Be careful what you reach for...

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