MOBILE, Alabama – Few players have generated more buzz through the first two days of this year’s Senior Bowl practices than former Ohio State wide receiver K.J. Hill.
Much like Terry McLaurin last year, Hill has been one of the standouts of this year’s showcase for NFL draft prospects, dominating one-on-one drills against defensive backs with his route-running ability. He’s been named a “winner” of the practices by many draft analysts and has seemingly done nothing but improve his stock so far this week – the most important part of which, at least as far as league talent evaluators are concerned, is already over.
Defensive backs still struggling to cover K.J. Hill on Day 2 of Senior Bowl practice. Even with a slight stumble on this route, he gets open for the catch. pic.twitter.com/vsMRxQkDaI— Dan Hope (@Dan_Hope) January 22, 2020
Hill might be catching some scouts by surprise with how consistently he’s won his matchups against some of the 2020 NFL draft’s top defensive backs over the past two days, but that won’t surprise Ohio State fans – considering he’s the school’s all-time leader in receptions – and he certainly hasn’t surprised himself.
Knowing how well other former Ohio State receivers have performed at the Senior Bowl in recent years, including McLaurin one years ago and Braxton Miller in 2016, Hill was determined to perform up to the high standard they set.
“It’s been good, but I expected to do that,” Hill said Wednesday when asked about the praise he’s received so far at the Senior Bowl. “I expected it because of Terry, Braxton and those guys. I can’t come out here and lay a goose egg. Being an Ohio State receiver, I had a lot of expectations coming in, so I was just trying to meet that.”
After playing almost exclusively at slot receiver at Ohio State, Hill has lined up both inside and outside this week, and he believes he’s been able to demonstrate versatility in the process.
Hill has continued to receive plenty of support from back in Columbus this week, including from his former wide receivers coaches at Ohio State, Brian Hartline and Keenan Bailey.
“(Hartline) called me late last night when I’m in meetings, he’s like, ‘I just wanted to tell you, you’re doing a great job. Keep doing you, being you. Keep playing with your swagger,’” Hill said Wednesday. “I got Keenan Bailey texting me, ‘Your toolbox is full, just use it all on the field.’ So I got a lot of support behind me, and I feel like Ohio State, they prepared me a lot. I can’t appreciate them enough.”
Hill isn’t the only former Ohio State wide receiver putting what he learned with the Buckeyes to good use this week. Austin Mack has also impressed with his route-running ability through his first two Senior Bowl practices, which has been a consistent theme for Ohio State receivers at all-star games over the past two years – including McLaurin at last year’s Senior Bowl and Binjimen Victor at last week’s East-West Shrine Bowl – and he says that’s a testament to what Hartline taught them in Columbus.
“Coach Hartline harped on that,” Mack said. “You’re not gonna be the best of the best if you can’t work on your craft, and being a receiver, you gotta be able to run routes. Coach Hart, every single day, was just trying to get us to emphasize route running and hips and being able to make the most out of separation.”
Austin Mack getting open with a nice route in one-on-ones. pic.twitter.com/3OLOFUrzUW— Dan Hope (@Dan_Hope) January 22, 2020
Another point of emphasis for all players at Ohio State is being prepared to contribute on special teams, and Mack also demonstrated that on Wednesday, when he proved to be a tough matchup as a punt gunner, which was also a role he played for the Buckeyes. Mack laughed when he was asked about that drill, which he said was “just fun,” but he recognizes that the value he can provide on special teams can bolster his draft stock, too.
“I know everybody’s looking at that too, so let everybody know I can do everything,” Mack said.
Austin Mack (No. 5), as a punt gunner, going head-to-head with Darnay Holmes. Mack wins this rep. pic.twitter.com/Ku8W1eLCnN— Dan Hope (@Dan_Hope) January 22, 2020
Wednesday will be the final day of Senior Bowl practices that many NFL representatives (and this Eleven Warriors writer) will attend this week, as Thursday’s practices – which will be held indoors at the University of South Alabama due to inclement weather – tend to place a greater emphasis on game-plan installation and less on individual evaluation periods.
In just two days, though, Ohio State’s prospects have made a significant impression with their performance on the field, including Jonah Jackson, who has spent most of the week practicing at right guard – after starting at left guard for the Buckeyes last season – and has regularly shut down his opponents in pass protection and moved defenders in the run game.
Jonah Jackson shuts down an inside stunt by Minnesota defensive end Carter Coughlin. pic.twitter.com/tOMS44KLX1— Dan Hope (@Dan_Hope) January 22, 2020
Defensive tackle DaVon Hamilton has also drawn his share of positive reviews for the power and quickness he has shown this week, and he felt good about his performance so far following Wednesday’s practice.
“I feel like I’ve shown myself pretty well,” Hamilton said. “Obviously I still have some stuff to improve on and that’s a never-ending thing, but I feel like I’ve shown myself.”
Malik Harrison has been one of the most active linebackers so far in Mobile; according to Zebra Technologies, the official data partner of the Senior Bowl, Harrison ran 3,882 yards of total distance on the first day of practice, with a max speed of 17.92 miles per hour.
According to data from Zebra Technologies, which uses player and ball tracking technology to power NFL's Next Gen Stats and also provides data to several colleges including Ohio state, Mack reached the highest max speed (19.65 mph) among the Buckeyes on the first day of practice and had a max acceleration score of 4.78, which was the second-best among all receivers at the Senior Bowl. Hill covered the fifth-most distance among all wide receivers (4,723 yards), Hamilton covered the fourth-most among defensive linemen (3,110 yards) and Jackson covered the seventh-most among offensive linemen (2,427 yards) on the first day of practice.