OWINGS MILLS — The Baltimore Ravens could be presented with an intriguing debate late Thursday night if Georgia Tech junior wide receiver Stephen Hill is still available when they’re on the clock.
Hill is a rare kind of prospect, imposing and strong at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds and also one of the fastest players in the draft with a 4.36 time in the 40-yard dash.
Traditionally, a player with his kind of physical gifts wouldn’t be around for the Ravens’ 29th overall pick of the first round.
There are more pressing needs for the Ravens considering they need help on the offensive line and already have two established starting wide receivers in Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith.
However, there were only eight receptions last season by the Ravens’ receivers other than Boldin (57 catches, 887 yards and three touchdowns ) and Smith (50 catches, 841 yards and seven touchdowns). Plus, Boldin is heading into the final year of his contract.
And Hill is regarded as a unique potential impact player.
"They have to get another receiver, they have to draft another receiver at some point," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. "I think Hill would be somebody maybe they would look at. You think about the wide receiver position, does it supersede the line? The line is so critical and they have a couple guys from Wisconsin (center Peter Konz and offensive guard Kevin Zeitler) that could be staring them in the face.
"I don’t think you take Hill when you think their situation over because wide receiver is the deepest of just about any spot in the draft. There’s a ton of wide receivers that are going to get drafted."
Hill is considered a somewhat raw prospect because he played in the Yellow Jackets’ triple-option offense that emphasizes the run first, last and almost always.
Last season, Hill caught a career-high 28 passes for 820 yards and five touchdowns while knocking down smaller defensive backs when called upon to block.
Hill is a former track star who excelled in the long jump in high school, breaking the state record. His best jump was good enough that it would have tied him for ninth at the last Olympic games.
"He’s one of the most intriguing players in this draft because from a height, weight, speed perspective and from a talent perspective, he’s probably a top 15 type of player," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. "I was at his Pro Day, and what really surprised me for a tall player was his ability to get in and out of breaks. That’s rare to have a guy that big not be stiff. He’s fluid getting in and out of breaks. His hands were good, although he had some key drops last year at Georgia Tech, but he’s a little bit of a lightning rod.
"There’s two schools of thought either you think he’s a raw, developmental guy that’s not worthy of a anything but a late two or mid-three, or you’re intrigued, and if he only catches 30 or 35 passes as a rookie, five or six of them are probably going to be for touchdowns and that’s worth pick No. 24 or 25 or 28 or whatever. I would not be surprised at all if this kid goes somewhere between 20 and 32 because so much upside to have a kid like that outside the numbers."
Hill finished his career with 1,248 receiving yards and nine touchdowns, averaging 25.47 yards per reception.
Among the Ravens’ players with at least 40 catches, Smith was the major deep threat with an average of 16.8 yards per reception.
Drafting Hill would involve taking a swing at potential greatness more than going with a safer lineman or defensive player.
"He’s an explosive guy who plays in that triple-option offense and really jumped off the film in terms of vertical speed," Ravens director of college scouting Joe Hortiz said of Hill. "He’s raw, like a lot of guys are who have come out of that offense, Demaryius Thomas. Their route polish isn’t quite there, but his athletic traits are really outstanding and exceptional, rare for the position.
"It would be a process of him picking up an NFL-style offense, learning how to read defenses. He doesn’t have to do a lot of that there. He has to block or run vertical, a limited route tree."
There are options beyond Hill in a first round where Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon and Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd are expected to be selected early.
Like Hill, LSU wide receiver Rueben Randle could provide a large red-zone target.
The 6-3, 210-pounder caught 53 passes for 917 yards and eight touchdowns last season.
Randle improved his 40-yard dash time to 4.42 seconds at his Pro Day workout after a relatively pedestrian 4.55 time at the NFL scouting combine.
"Randle, he’s more pro-style," Hortiz said. "They run a lot of that zone-read, depending on the quarterback, but he’s explosive as well. He didn’t run as great at the combine, but he went to his pro day and cleaned up there.
"He changed his running form, and you could see the difference. He was tight at the combine, kind of bound up. If you watched him run, he looked more relaxed. He’s an explosive guy and he’s been a playmaker there at LSU for them.”
Baylor wide receiver Kendall Wright is a quick, productive player who caught 108 passes for 1,663 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, but he isn’t very big at 5-10, 196 pounds. He reminds some of former Ravens first-round wide receiver Mark Clayton.
South Carolina wide receiver Alshon Jeffery is an All-Southeastern Conference wide receiver who got in better shape this spring after ballooning to over 230 pounds during the season. He was down to 216 pounds at his Pro Day.
He ran between 4.4 and 4.5 seconds after not running at the combine and had a 36-inch vertical leap and a 10-2 broad jump.
"He can make plays," Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta said. "I think [losing weight] helped him run a 40, but the tape is what the tape is. A guy that loses 20 pounds in my estimation is probably going to gain some of that back at some point, and play at that weight.”
Jeffery caught 179 career passes for 2,984 yards and 22 touchdowns.
"Jeffery is not as fast," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. "I worry about what his weight is going to be. You can throw it outside the numbers, jump balls, red zone. He’s a gifted kid that doesn’t run very fast."
Jeffery is expected to go in the second round.
"He’s a very intriguing prospect," Kiper said. "I was high on him and I dropped him down, and at the end of the day with the way his weight changed and shifted around there, it’s going to push him I think into the second, but he’ll be a guy that’s going to be an interesting case study to see what happens to a player that you didn’t have the assurance that this is going to be his body type at the pro level."
The Ravens brought in Illinois wide receiver A.J. Jenkins for a visit. He’s graded as a third-round possibility.
Jenkins has good size and speed at 6-foot, 190 pounds, running a 4.39 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine.
He also posted a 38 1/2 inch vertical leap, a 10-4 broad jump and bench pressed 225 pounds a dozen times. At his campus Pro Day workout, Jenkins registered a 4.12 in the 20-yard shuttle and a 6.73 in the three-cone drill.
The All-Big Ten Conference wide receiver led the conference with 84 catches for 1,194 yards and seven touchdowns last season.
Rutgers wide receiver Mohamed Sanu has drawn second-round grades.
He has good size and strength at 6-2, 211 pounds, but isn’t nearly as explosive as the other receivers. He did improve his 40-yard dash times into the 4.4 range after a sluggish 4.62 at the combine.
Sanu caught 115 passes for 1,206 yards and seven touchdowns last season, finishing his career with 210 receptions, 2,263 yards and 12 touchdowns.
"Sanu comes more from a pro-style offense," Hortiz said. "He certainly has the size. He’s not quite as explosive as a Stephen Hill, but he’s a guy who can catch a ball really well. "He understands how to use his body and get open, work underneath."
If the Ravens opt for a smaller slot receiver who could operate as the third wideout, Arkansas’ Joe Adams and speedy Florida International’s T.Y. Hilton (4.3 speed) are potentially attractive options because they can also return kicks.
"Some of the guys early if they’re good receivers, you don’t worry about their return skills because it’s not like you have to have that," Kiper said. "You would prefer it, but you can get some guys, maybe a guy late that can just fill that type of role. You don’t necessarily have to have that guy that can do both, but they have to get another receiver. I think that’s a need area for them."
NOTES: The Ravens are $1.653 million under the NFL salary cap limit. … Former Baltimore kicker Matt Stover, who was inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor last fall, will be announcing the Ravens’ second-round and third-round draft picks at Radio City Music Hall in New York.