Rex Ryan says Stephen Hill “needs to be a lot better”

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At last year’s Scouting Combine, few players were as impressive as Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill, who put on a show and shot up draft boards: Although the NFL draft advisory board told Hill at the end of his junior season that there was no way he’d go in the first three rounds, the Jets ended up taking him early in the second round.

A year later, Jets coach Rex Ryan says he’s still excited about Hill’s athletic talent. But he needs better production from Hill in his second season.

“It needs to be a lot better than year one because Stephen is a guy that has a lot of ability,” Ryan said at his Scouting Combine press conference. “His ceiling is really high. Like many guys as rookies, many receivers coming into this league as rookies, a lot of inconsistency. Some weeks he was outstanding, other weeks not so much, but I expect him to improve by leaps and bounds going into year two.”

Hill showed a lot of promise in his first NFL game, with five catches for 89 yards and two touchdowns in the Jets’ Week One win over the Bills. But much like the rest of the Jets’ offense, Hill never looked as good for the rest of the season. Hill finished the year with 21 catches for 252 yards and two touchdowns.

But Ryan said today that he’s still impressed by Hill — “that height, that speed” — and he mentioned another pretty good wide receiver who took a little time adjusting to the NFL.

“I’m always reminded that Jerry Rice never started as a rookie,” Ryan said. “I don’t know who was coaching him, but it does show you the greatest receiver of all time never even started as a rookie.”

It is true that 49ers coach Bill Walsh eased Rice into San Francisco’s offense in 1985, preferring to keep established veteran starters Dwight Clark and Freddie Solomon in the starting lineup and bringing Rice in as the third receiver. But it’s not true that Rice never started as a rookie (he started four games as a rookie), and even though he was ostensibly the No. 3 receiver, Rice was really the 49ers’ biggest receiving threat, and he had almost as many receiving yards as Clark and Solomon combined for in 1985.

So no one should compare Stephen Hill to Jerry Rice any time soon. Unless Hill gets a lot better. A whole lot better.