When Ryan Day was asked during a teleconference on Sunday morning which Ohio State player he thought should have been selected earlier in the 2020 NFL draft, the Buckeyes’ head coach gave his answer without hesitation.
“That one I don’t understand,” Day said. “All he does is get open, catch the ball, make great plays. The most productive receiver in Ohio State history. I don’t get that one at all. Certainly a lot of guys that I could comment on, but that’s the one that sticks out to me.”
Those comments came one day after Hill fell to the seventh round of the NFL draft, even though he is the only player in Ohio State history with more than 200 career catches, and even though he was projected to be selected between the third and fifth rounds in most pre-draft mock drafts.
Finally, the Los Angeles Chargers ended Hill’s draft slide with the sixth pick of the seventh round – the 220th overall pick, to be exact – and Day expects the Chargers to reap the rewards of other teams’ mistakes.
“The Chargers got a complete steal, and I think a lot of guys missed on him,” Day said.
It isn’t hard to find others, from NFL draft analysts to Chargers players and other members of the organization, who expect Day to be correct.
K.J. Hill. https://t.co/k4t6zF13ri— Andrew Cunneen (@Cunneen92) April 26, 2020
They really slept on bra https://t.co/wj6Yl6UV6x— Derwin James Jr (@DerwinJames) April 25, 2020
*sees kj hill available in the 7th round* pic.twitter.com/fxAIvSGk0d— Los Angeles Chargers (@Chargers) April 25, 2020
Why did Hill fall so far in the draft despite his record-setting Ohio State career? One reason might be his mediocre measurables, as he’s smaller and slower than an average NFL receiver at 6-0 and 196 pounds with a 4.6-second 40-yard dash time. Another reason was the overall strength of the wide receiver class, which was considered to be one of the deepest ever, as 32 other receivers were drafted before him.
“Every year in the draft, there’s always so many receivers that it just seems like every year, a couple guys kind of fall a little bit further down than you would expect,” Chargers general manager Tom Telesco said in his post-draft press conference. “But K.J. had a great career at Ohio State. Four-year player, four-year production. Super smart and instinctive. Just a great feel to get open, which a lot of inside receivers need to have. Excellent hands, he’s done some punt returns too. So yeah, it was nice that he was still there in the seventh round that we could take a shot at that.”
Hill’s upside might have been viewed by NFL teams as limited, at least when compared to some of the other wide receivers in the draft with more size and speed. For example, the Cleveland Browns selected former Michigan wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones – who measured in at 6-foot-2 and 212 pounds with a 4.48-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine – 33 picks ahead of Hill even though Peoples-Jones had 98 fewer catches with the Wolverines than Hill had with the Buckeyes.
Day, who spent two years in the NFL as a quarterbacks coach for the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers, nonetheless expects Hill’s skills that made him one of Ohio State’s most reliable receivers for the past four seasons to translate to success at the next level.
“Everybody’s different in how they go about their business. So I’m not sitting here telling anybody how to do their business. But I just know that some great coaches said, the best receivers, they get open and they catch the ball,” Day said. “So it doesn’t really matter what you run (in the 40) or anything like that. Do you get open? Do you catch the ball?
“If you’re not fast enough to get open or you can’t catch the ball, then that’s a problem. But I’ve never seen anybody cover K.J. Hill on a consistent basis. So I think it’ll be the same way once he gets to the NFL.”
“The Chargers got a complete steal, and I think a lot of guys missed on him.”– Ryan Day on seventh-round NFL draft pick K.J. Hill
As a seventh-round pick, Hill isn’t a lock to make the Chargers’ roster. Of the 40 players selected in the seventh round of the 2019 NFL draft, only 18 made the regular-season rosters of the teams that drafted them.
That said, Hill appears to have landed in a spot where he’ll have a real chance to not only make the Chargers’ roster, but potentially earn substantial playing time as a rookie. While Keenan Allen and Mike Williams are established starters in Los Angeles, the Chargers don’t have any other receivers on their roster with more than 27 career catches in the NFL, leaving the door wide open for Hill to compete his way up the depth chart quickly and potentially be the team’s top slot receiver.
Landing with the right team, and what a player does to take advantage of whatever opportunity he gets, can ultimately be more important than how early he gets drafted.
“There’s a lot of guys who have been in the same boat and they go on to have great careers,” Day said. “All these guys need are opportunities, and they all kind of have the same opportunity. Certainly guys who were drafted in the first round probably have a little bit more than the undrafted free agents, but still, all you really need is that chance to get on the field and prove what you have.”
Hill won’t be able to immediately prove what he can do on the field, as NFL rookie minicamp and offseason workouts were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He’s looking forward to his opportunity to compete and show his skills once the Chargers are able to start practicing again, though.
worth the wait pic.twitter.com/2m33gkaKzo— Los Angeles Chargers (@Chargers) April 26, 2020
He acknowledged “it was real hard” to have to wait until the seventh round to be drafted, but once he got the call from the Chargers, it was still a dream come true from the former Buckeye from North Little Rock, Arkansas.
“I’m just so happy and so blessed,” Hill said in his video conference with Chargers reporters after he was drafted. “I feel like I’m coming into a good position to come compete for a spot.”