Size: T.Y. Hilton doesn’t have very impressive size at only 5’10”, 184 pounds. He looks skinny on film, and could definitely stand to add weight and get stronger. Without more muscle and strength I worry that he will struggle with durability issues in the NFL (he has already had hamstring issues this season).
Speed: Hilton’s speed may be his greatest asset. He has the speed to outrun man coverage, to beat zone coverage over the top of him on vertical routes, and to outrun angles that defenders may take to tackle him. His 40 time is listed at 4.48 but I would be shocked if that were his official time. He looks faster than that on film, and I would estimate around a 4.42 if he was healthy. This aspect of Hilton’s game is what makes him a worthwhile NFL prospect, and it is what will turn the heads of talent evaluators when they watch him play.
Quickness: Hilton has quite a bit of quickness too. He is very shifty and changes directions easily. This makes it easy for him to burst in and out of cuts when he wants to, which makes him difficult to tackle in the open field. This also helps him change direction on kick-off and punt returns which he also excels at, making him a versatile and valuable player.
Release: Hilton’s release is one of the more disappointing parts of his game. Even when he isn’t being jammed, I have never been impressed by his burst and explosion off of the line of scrimmage. Frequently he doesn’t fly off the line, and at times will almost jog (though primarily on drag routes, etc.) which concerns me. But when he is jammed he can be physically abused because of his lack of size and strength, and that makes it hard for him to get off of the line of scrimmage and hurts the timing of his routes. This is one thing that Hilton really needs to work on.
Route Running: Hilton’s route running shows flashes of potential, but as of not it is inconsistent and not very impressive. He has the burst and change of direction ability to burst in and out of cuts to create separation, but more often than not he rounds off his breaks and doesn’t run crisp routes. While this is an issue currently, with NFL coaching (and the desire to improve from Hilton) this could be rectified easily. He has the ability to run quality routes and create separation at a NFL level, he just hasn’t had to do it at Florida International.
Hands: Hilton’s hands are the most concerning part of his game to me. Frequently his only drops are passes that he attempts to catch outside of his body with his hands. He catches the ball fine when he can trap it against his body, but this bad habit will lead to drops in the NFL. Additionally, because he struggles to catch passes away from his core it makes it more difficult to QB’s to put the ball somewhere where he can catch it. His range is small because of his inability to snag the ball out of the air away from his body, and that really hurts his potential as a receiver.
Body Control: I believe Hilton has pretty good body control. He is able to change directions quickly and has good feet to stop and start when making a cut or changing directions. I haven’t had a lot of chances to evaluate his body control in the four games I have watched since he catches so many bubble screens and simple routes, but if my opinion of his body control is changed by what I see later in the season it will be reflected in an updated scouting report.
In Traffic: Hilton is average at catching passes in traffic. I don’t think he likes contact very much as evidenced by him frequently runs out of bounds at the end of plays and struggling to gain yards after contact with defenders, and because of his body catching I don’t think he will be overly reliable over the middle in the NFL. He can make catches against man coverage with a defender in his hip pocket, but I’m not sure he will be able to make tough catches and absorb a lot of contact.
YAC: Hilton is a fantastic yards after catch producer. He’s very fast and changes direction very easily and does a great job of making defenders miss in the open field to gain additional yardage. When he can accelerate and get going full speed he is tough to catch because he can outrun your angles, and that leads to a lot of yardage when he can catch passes down the seam or on slant routes when he has created some separation. However, when he tries to run through arm tackles he struggles and I’m not sure I’ve seen him break more than one or maybe two tackles when I’ve watched him. He prefers to avoid contact and make guys miss than shrug off would-be tacklers.
Blocking: Hilton is an average blocker for his size, but it seems that he is rotated out of the game in obvious running situations in favor of other wide receivers who might be better blockers. If he is ever going to be truly effective in this area of the game he is going to need to get stronger so he can sustain his blocks better.
Overall: Hilton is a very intriguing prospect because of his great athletic ability. He isn’t a very big guy, but if he can get stronger and get coached up at beating jams at the line, improving his release off of the line of scrimmage and then using his burst, acceleration and speed to create more separation as a route runner he could be a very dangerous slot receiver. But his hands are definitely a concern for me and I don’t think he will ever be a receiver who snags passes away from his body with his hands. I think he can improve them with coaching, but I wouldn’t expect him to ever have great hands even with NFL coaching and experience. If he can improve his hands it would make him a very dangerous weapon in the NFL considering he will already be effective at creating YAC once he has the ball in his hands. He just has to be a more reliable target with a better range in my estimation. But as he is developing as a receiver he should be able to make an immediate contribution on special teams as a kick-off and punt return man. He seems to have good vision with the ball in his hands and due to his great speed he can really pick up yardage quickly once he has some open field to work with. Hilton’s versatility and his upside as a vertical threat on offense definitely make him a worthwhile NFL prospect.
Projection: Late 2nd round to Mid 3rd round: Obviously this is an early projection, but I think this is a solid estimation of where Hilton will go. I think his hands will scare some teams off from picking him in the early-middle portion of the 2nd round, but a guy with his ability to threaten teams vertically, make plays on special teams and rack up yards after the catch will be worth a selection once you get towards the end of round two and into round three. That is where you tend to see a lot of slot receivers go.