The No. 4 player on this list is playing a premier position at Ohio State. He may or may not start a game this year, but he’s as much of a starter as anybody else on the team. The words “sneaky good” are a fitting descriptor here.
No. 4 — K.J. Hill, rSo H-Back
K.J. Hill played in 11 games last year, missing two due to an ankle injury. He caught 18 passes for 262 yards, and his lone touchdown was the first score of the 2016 season for the Buckeyes. That 47-yard score was one of just four completions of 40 yards or more for Ohio State last year.
He played in the slot last season, and that’s where he’ll likely line up again this season. He spent the entirety of spring there, so it stands to reason that he’ll be there in the fall too.
In the slot, he is an effective blocker on outside runs, but that’s not why he’s No. 4 on this list. Last season, Hill only showed a little bit of what he is capable of, but he still caught at least one pass in the Buckeyes’ final six contests. With a more consistent passing game, expect more consistent receivers.
K.J. Hill doesn’t get talked about a lot — there were only a couple of quotes about him this spring, and he doesn’t do a lot of talking. That is all about to change, however.
What He Does Well
He does exactly what he is asked to do. Sounds simple, but it’s necessary. His coaches have complete trust in him, which means he’ll be getting the ball in a variety of ways. He can play inside or outside, or run a jet sweep, or leave defenders guessing on seam routes. He is a terrible matchup for safeties covering him in the slot, or a linebacker who has to match up with him on an intermediate route. Hill has very good hands, and is just coming into his own as a playmaker after the catch.
He had four receptions of 20+ yards last season, which is more than anybody else on the roster in 2017. He can be used in a variety of ways, and that includes more deep routes, which he looked just fine running against Bowling Green. Hill is reminiscent of Jalin Marshall, who himself excelled in the slot. Both are fast enough to cause trouble, but it’s their craftiness between the hashes that makes them a real problem.
The offense limited Hill’s touches last season, but touches is something that Kevin Wilson’s slot receivers have always gotten plenty of.
K.J. Hill in 2017
Assuming he stays in the slot, Hill will be splitting time with Parris Campbell at H-back, but they will both be playing plenty. Hill will remain fresh throughout a game due to the rotation, so he should have an advantage over his defenders as the game wears on.
Looking at the numbers put up by Kevin Wilson’s slot receivers over the years, and you have to get a little excited to see what Hill can do in 2017. Here are the reception totals for the Hoosiers’ starting slot receiver since 2012: 58, 57, 56, 46, and 67. Yes, Hill and Campbell will be splitting the reps, but there’s no reason Hill can’t end up with 35-45 receptions this season, if not more. Heck, Dontre Wilson had 27 last season splitting time with Curtis Samuel, who hardly ever came off the field.
With Wilson and Ryan Day’s passing concepts, Buckeye H-backs were running corner routes almost unopposed in the spring. There will be more tweaks to come, which should see plenty of exploitable situations for Hill and the rest of the Buckeye receivers.
The media and the fans might not be talking about K.J. Hill right now, but the defenses he’ll be facing in 2017 will know all about him. Count on it.
What They Are Saying
“K.J. Hill, I’m not sure he’s not one of our top two or top three receivers, so we’re still playing around with who’s going to play where. That’s a huge position for us.” — Urban Meyer on the H-backs.
“Probably just ballin’ out. Got my confidence back, it’s my third year here now, so I’m a veteran now. It’s time to go now. I expected to be one of the leaders in the room as far as talking more and being more vocal and getting guys going. Bringing younger guys up.” — K.J. Hill on why he impressed in the spring.