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Scouting Jets Hall of Fame Tackle Winston Hill

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Portrait of Winston Hill

Unfortunately, due to the global pandemic, this year’s bumper hall of fame induction ceremony, which would have taken place this week, was cancelled.

For many Jets fans, lost in the consternation about Joe Klecko once again being snubbed was the fact that offensive tackle Winston Hill is finally going to be honored.

Since Hill won’t be inducted this weekend as planned, we’re going to pay tribute to him with an in-depth article discussing everything that he brought to the table.

Background

Hill attended college at Texas Southern after which he was selected by the Baltimore Colts in the 11th round of the 1963 draft. He attended camp with them but was ultimately released after being tormented by defensive end Ordell Braase in practice.

Hill instead went to the AFL as he signed with the Jets as a free agent. This was the team’s first season as the Jets, having changed their name after the 1962 season.

As a rookie, Hill started just four games, but he moved into a full-time starting role in 1964 and earned all-AFL honors for the first time.

The stakes were raised in 1965, as the Jets drafted Joe Namath so Hill was tasked with protecting Joe Namath’s blindside.

As Namath developed, Hill continued to build his reputation and played in his second AFL all-star game in 1967.

1968 of course saw the Jets go all the way to the championship game, with Hill playing a key role in the Jets’ Super Bowl III win over the Colts to cap another all-AFL season. He followed that up with another all-AFL season in 1969 as the Jets made the postseason but lost a close game against the Chiefs.

After the AFL-NFL merger, Hill was a perennial pro bowler as he went to four in a row from 1970 to 1973. He was also named as a second-team all-pro twice during that time.

1973 would be Hill’s final pro bowl campaign, although his coaching staff maintained that 1974 had been his best season.

Hill remained with the Jets until 1976, where he would miss four starts - the first since his rookie season. In all, he had started 174 games in a row which was in the top 10 longest streaks in league history at the time.

When Namath left the Jets in 1977 to sign with the Rams, Hill went with him, although he only played three games for them before retiring.

Hill was named to the Jets’ Ring of Honor in 2010, but sadly passed away in 2016. It was announced that he’d be inducted into the Hall of Fame in January.

Let’s move onto some more in-depth analysis of what Hill brought to the table, based on in-depth research and film study.

Measurables/Athleticism

In an era when tackles were much smaller than they are today, Hill was an imposing figure at 6’4” and played at between 270 and 285 pounds during his pro career. He also had - and made good use of - long arms and big hands.

Hill’s best attribute was probably his strength, but he was also extremely athletic as he shows on plays like this.

Usage

Hill spent the first half of his career as a left tackle, protecting Namath’s blindside. However, in 1971, he moved over to right tackle and became more renowned for his run blocking. He would remain on the right side for the rest of his Jets’ career.

Pass Blocking

Hill is considered an early prototype for the modern blindside pass protector with his combination of athletic feet, size, strength and length.

He had the ability to mirror and stay in front of his man and to control his block, but more than that he had a competitive edge to keep battling even when losing a leverage advantage.

It wouldn’t be accurate to say that Hill never got beaten, but it was rare that he’d give up clean pressure as he would usually be able to slow his man down enough so that pressure came late in the play and enabled the throw to be made.

Hill’s strength enabled him to hold up against bull rushes which was again crucial in buying Namath valuable time to get his throws off.

Run Blocking

While he forged his reputation as a pass blocker, Hill was also a formidable run blocker, especially after moving to right tackle after which he went to three pro bowls in a row.

One of his signature performances was in Super Bowl III where he was matched up against Braase and was able to gain a measure of revenge as Matt Snell rushed for 121 yards, much of which came on a play called 19-straight that saw him bounce outside on Hill’s side.

His strength was an asset in the running game too. As Weeb Ewbank once said, Hill “doesn’t just get a stalemate - he blows [his man] out”. This enabled him to open up holes in the running game for the likes of Snell and Emerson Boozer.

He had explosiveness off the line as well, to bring some power and create a downfield surge.

Hill was particularly effective on cut blocks and kick-out blocks at the point of attack. He wasn’t just dominant at the point of attack though. Here he fires off the line and makes a great block at the second level.

The Jets’ system would often also require him to block on the move, especially earlier on in his career.

Short Yardage

With his strength at the point of attack and explosiveness out of his stance, Hill was an excellent guy to run behind in short yardage situations.

Perhaps his most important block helped get Snell into the end zone for the Jets’ only touchdown in Super Bowl III.

Screen Blocking

While the Jets would usually leave Hill as a pass protector in to slow up the pass rushers when running a screen, they did have him running out in front of a few misdirection screens from time to time.

He definitely had the ability to get downfield in front of a ball carrier and even when he didn’t lock onto a block was a disruptive presence down the field.

Footwork/Technique

Hill wasn’t what you’d call a master technician and there were in fact some moments where he got completely turned around or was driven off his spot, but he never stopped battling and made excellent use of the physical tools at his disposal.

Snell once described how effortless Hill would make it look saying he could take his man where he wanted them to go and “never broke a sweat”. Here’s a good example of Snell being ready to help but not needing to because Hill made it look so easy.

Hill had an ability to use his length to buy himself time to react to his man’s counter after repelling his initial move. He handled spin moves well and shows here how well he could use his hands to repel his man’s strikes.

He actually ended up on the floor quite a lot, although this was primarily because he made a cut block or maximized his reach by lunging after a block to slow up his man for as long as possible.

Penalties

Early on in his career, Hill had a reputation as someone who would get a lot of holding penalties called on him. However, his discipline improved over the course of his career. “I never held an honest man in my life,” he once said.

Even so, in 1975, some Miami Dolphins players voted him as the “most likely to hold”, although this is probably just a testament to how difficult they found it to get off his blocks.

Special Teams

Hill played in an era where starting offensive linemen would be expected to block on the placekicking unit. He also saw some time on field goal defense trying to block kicks.

Instincts/Intelligence

Playing in an era where there was such good continuity because players didn’t miss as many games no doubt helped the Jets develop good chemistry on their offensive line. Hill was adept at moving from assignment to assignment and handling stunts.

He also seemed to adjust well to his matchup over the course of a game. So, if someone managed to beat him once, you’d often see him handle the same move easily if they tried it again.

Attitude

Hill’s dependability, durability and toughness are a big part of what makes him a Jets legend. He was looked upon as a leader for most of his career and flashed aggression and nastiness on the field without being a dirty player.

Hill was an extremely confident player. In fact, Namath wasn’t the only Jet to guarantee a win over the Colts in Super Bowl III because Hill did too.

Injuries

As noted, Hill started 174 games in a row, so his durability was a key factor for the Jets. He didn’t avoid injuries altogether though, playing through an injured foot in 1970, for example.

In fact, he was even able to keep the streak going in 1965 despite having suffered a broken leg in preseason.

Scheme Fit

Hill was player that could have been successful in any scheme, although the Jets primarily operated a man/power scheme in terms of their running game throughout his career.

Had he played in the modern era, Hill could perhaps have moved inside to extend his career late on, because he definitely had the strength and explosiveness to handle interior line assignments.

Conclusions

It’s great to see that Hill is finally getting this recognition, although it’s a shame it has to be posthumously.

Ron Wolf was among those who has campaigned over the years for the veteran committee to honor Hill and Woody Johnson correctly referred to Hill as one of the most decorated Jets of all time.

His chances had been hurt by the fact he spent half of his career in the AFL and half in the NFL because most of the top AFL linemen of all time spent the majority of their career in that league so it was easier to compare their achievements. Four pro bowls and four AFL all-star appearances (three as an all-AFL selection) speaks for itself though.

Hill was one of the legends of the Super Bowl III winning team with an impressive body of work, excellent longevity and film that backs up his reputation as a standout performer. That makes him more than worthy of Hall of Fame recognition, whenever it is that this becomes official.