There really isn't much question that Stephen Hill will or should be back next year. He's a cheap young player at a position of weakness for the Jets. You do not invest a second round pick on a player and give up on him after a year. That goes double for somebody like Hill.
Everybody knew Hill was a big project when the Jets selected him last April. There was almost no part of his game that was refined. In Georgia Tech's triple option offense, he spent most of his time blocking, which is really just an accessory skill for a wide receiver. Hill was picked purely on potential. There just are not many human beings on the planet who are both 6'4" and can fun the 40 yard dash in 4.3 seconds.
If you want an idea on how low expectations were for Hill, check the comments before the season projecting what Hill would do. Preseason is when pretty much everybody wears rose colored glasses and makes ridiculous high end projections. I certainly do it. When it came to Hill, it was a struggle to find anybody who thought he would put up 700 yards. That was a pretty clear indication his ceiling for 2012 was not great.
Hill's problem was that he never should have seen much time as a rookie. His game was too unrefined. The Jets were so thin at receiver, though, that he had to get time. After an 89 yard, 2 touchdown opener against the Bills, Hill struggled the rest of the year. It was a series of struggling to break jams, sloppy routes, and killer drops, none more costly than his late one at New England. In fairness, he should have had three more touchdowns if not for Mark Sanchez missing a trio of absolute layup throws. All in all, however, Hill was not much of a factor and did not stretch the field as the Jets had hoped.
More than almost anybody on the roster, Hill stands to benefit from an offseason program where he will have plenty of time to refine his game. How quickly can he learn? Is there any way to fix the drops? Can he learn to use his size to become an effective red zone target? We do not know the answer to any of these things. His measurables make it possible but guarantee nothing.
Hill's development will tell the story on how good the Jets receiving corps will be in 2013. If Hill suddenly morphs into the monster his raw athleticism allows him to be and he becomes a dominant deep threat, the receiving corps suddenly looks pretty good with Santonio Holmes as a complimentary guy and Jeremy Kerley in the slot. If he develops into an adequate deep threat, it is a below average group. If he does not grow at all, it is once again one of the least talented groups in the league barring the selection of a playmaker in the Draft.
Unfortunately, the first scenario seems like the least likely by a mile. Being a great athlete is different from being a great wide receiver. Some athletes learn the necessary skills to play receiver. Most do not. Being big and fast are great attributes for a receiver to have, but these alone do not make a great receiver. Hopefully Hill will prove to be an exception. If not, the limits of Mike Tannenbaum basing his drafting on raw athletic ability will be on display once again.