The St. Louis Rams upgraded their quarterback contingency plan by inking Shaun Hill to a one-year deal. Hill had spent the better part of the last four seasons backing up Matthew Stafford in Detroit, and now he will carry a clipboard for another former first overall draft pick in Sam Bradford.
Despite the fact that the 34-year-old Hill has only completed 12 passes since 2010, he is well thought of in both NFL and fantasy circles. Known as one of the league’s best backup quarterbacks, he will be breathing down the neck of a thus-far disappointing passer who is coming off ACL surgery and may not be ready to partake in the Rams’ June minicamp.
In limited playing time, Hill has posted a higher career completion percentage than Bradford (61.9% vs 58.6%), as well as better yards per attempt (6.7 vs 6.3), quarterback rating (85.9 vs 79.3), and touchdown percentage marks (4.3% vs 3.4%). Of course Hill is seven years older than Bradford, who theoretically is still ascending while Hill’s skill set has potentially calcified during three seasons of inactivity.
The most relevant track record we have on Hill comes from 2010, mainly because it is the most recent. He placed 15th in PFF’s QB Rating, which takes into account drops, spikes, throwaways, and receiver contributions. Hill received an overall grade of +9.3, which placed him 13th at his position. During his 10 starts filling in for an injured Stafford, he ranked fifth in the league with an Accuracy Percentage of 76.1, and was even better in that category when faced with a pass rush (2nd; 70.1%).
However, those high marks for accuracy came with a caveat. Hill ranked 27th in yards per attempt (6.46), behind even noted bombers Mark Sanchez and Chad Henne, and 27th in net yards per attempt – which has better predictive qualities. His interception percentage earned a mediocre ranking (16th; 2.9%), and his touchdown percentage was poor (23rd; 3.8%). While Hill did not receive much help from the three-pronged rushing attack of Jahvid Best (3.2 yards per carry), Maurice Morris (3.7), and Kevin Smith (3.9), he obviously benefitted from throwing to Calvin Johnson and a still-young Nate Burleson.
Hill actually averaged more yards per carry than any of his running backs (5.6), and graded as PFF’s fourth best rushing quarterback (+2.7). In fact, he also graded positively as a runner and placed in the top 10 at his position both in 2009 (+1.7; 6th) and 2010 (+1.6; 10th), his only other seasons where he appeared in more than three games. Those are cumulative grades and Hill played far from complete seasons, lending credence to the notion that he was more mobile than commonly assumed.
Hill’s accuracy under pressure was aided by his ability to move around, but it is tough to project how much that skill eroded as he moved into his mid-30s. He certainly is not more agile at this point. Accuracy under pressure was a major asset and if it is markedly diminished, Hill may just be throwing rocks in a gunfight.
If recent seasons are any indication, Hill will be in a few gunfights if he winds up taking snaps for the Rams. While their pass blocking grades have improved in each of the last two seasons, from -26.7 in 2011 (27th in the NFL), to +2.6 in 2012 (22nd), to +6.9 last season (13th), their best lineman is questionable to be ready for the 2014 season. Left tackle Jake Long tore his ACL and MCL during a Week 16 game, heightening the Rams’ need to acquire offensive line help. St. Louis has both the number two and number 13 pick in the first round of the NFL Draft, so they certainly have the ammo to address this need if they choose to.
Fantasy owners are understandably excited at the prospect of the more accurate veteran unlocking the potential of St. Louis’ gaggle of receiving options. Expectations should be kept in check, however, as Bradford is a near lock to begin the season behind center. Regardless of speculation concerning his durability, it is in the Rams’ best interests to have their franchise passer find his stride, and he will be given every opportunity to do just that.
Hill is currently rosterable as a flier in the deepest of dynasty leagues, as well as most two-quarterback formats. Beyond that he is little more than a very interesting name to keep on fantasy radars in case he gets the keys to a run-based offense that is nevertheless flush with dormant receiving talent.
Pat Thorman is a Lead Writer for PFF Fantasy and was named 2013 Newcomer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. You can follow him on Twitter at @Pat_Thorman
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