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Bengals fans had to wait a long time to hear who the franchise selected with the 31st pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Longer than ever before, actually. At around 11:30 PM EST, the wait was finally over. The pick was in. The name: Daxton Hill.
Despite having a need at cornerback and at defensive tackle, the Bengals opted for the playmaking defensive back who roamed all over the secondary while at Michigan. The 1st Team All-Big 10 selection lined up at outside cornerback, slot cornerback, box safety and deep safety during his time with the Wolverines, showcasing the supreme versatility that made him such an appealing option for the Bengals.
In his junior season at Michigan, the 6’0’’, 191 lbs. Hill appeared in 14 games, recording 69 tackles, 4.5 tackles for a loss, half a sack, two interceptions, eight passes defended and one fumble recovery. That’s called filling up the stat sheet. Hill also clocked a 4.38 in the 40-yard dash, 33.5 inches in the vertical jump, and 121 inches in the broad jump while at the NFL Combine, showcasing the elite athleticism that was reflected by his excellent tape. Oh, and better yet, Hill allowed only one touchdown in coverage over the past two seasons, according to Pro Football Focus.
“We’re really excited about (Daxton Hill). He was a player that we thought very highly of and were surprised he was there for us,” said Head Coach Zac Taylor shortly after the selection was made, “We’re really eager to add him to our team. We think he will be a great weapon for us on defense, and we can use him in a lot of different ways. We’re really, really fired up to get him in the building.”
Just typing that up got me really, really fired up about Hill. In an era of the NFL where passing dominates the game more than ever, it couldn’t hurt to add a rangy, sideline-to-sideline defender who can contribute in lots of different ways. Hill can be a moveable chess piece and third safety for defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo, similar to the role the recently-retired Ricardo Allen filled last year.
Anarumo expanded upon what Taylor said, explaining that Hill’s versatility was a key factor in his selection. “...the more a player can do, the better off he’ll help us as a team,” said the fourth-year defensive coordinator, “And this guy is no different. He kind of fits that bill to a ‘T.’ So we’re super excited about him. As Zac has already mentioned, he can do a number of different things. We’ve used a bunch of three-safety packages in the past, and we’re looking forward to do a bunch of different things for them. So we’re super excited.”
Just a shot in the dark, but I get the feeling the Bengals’ coaches are excited about this pick. And they should be. A player of this caliber doesn’t fall to pick #31 often. Arguably, he shouldn’t have been there in the first place.
Drafting Hill was a coup for the Bengals, according to many draft experts. “The Bengals could get a steal with Daxton Hill at No. 31,” wrote Mel Kiper, ESPN’s resident draft-expert, “The Michigan defensive back can play corner or safety. He was ranked No. 14 on my Big Board.” Kiper wasn’t the only analyst who thought highly of Hill. Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com had Hill ranked #21 on his Top 150. Danny Kelly of The Ringer had him ranked #14. Rob Rang of Fox Sports had him ranked at #18.
So, now that Hill is officially a Bengal, what does this mean for the rest of the team and their 2022 outlook? If you asked Bengals’ Twitter, this is Jessie Bates III's last season in Stripes. Bates, who was franchised tagged by the Bengals in the offseason, has been pushing for a long-term extension that will make him one of, if not the, highest paid safeties in the NFL. Those with a pessimistic outlook can’t help but feel the writing is on the wall with the Hill selection. I disagree.
For one thing, just take a look at Taylor’s and Anarumo’s comments. They are absolutely fired up about the prospect of throwing more three-safety looks at opposing offenses. Hill is a far better athlete than Allen was during his career. Allen was also a fifth-round pick back in 2014. Hill has far more upside than Allen ever did.
Also, as the NFL continues to develop and change, it's becoming clear that more and more the league is going “positionless.” From hybrid offensive weapons like the San Francisco 49ers’ Deebo Samuel and the Atlanta Falcons’ Cordarrelle Patterson, to movable defenders like the Cowboys’ Micah Parsons, players who can do a little bit of everything are coveted more than ever.
Hill fits the mold of the “positionless” NFL perfectly. On one snap, he could be lined up outside against a wide receiver. The next, he’s in the box next to Logan Wilson and Germaine Pratt at linebacker. Then, he might finish the 3-and-out by lining up at deep safety next to Bates. The options are endless, but only because Hill has the versatility and skill to make it work.
“He is a little undersized but has unbelievable play speed,” said Taylor, “He changes direction well and has a good knack for the ball. He played nickel a lot, sets the edge, could cover your slot or tight end. He’s a baller.”
I bet many Bengals fans' ears perked up when they read that Hill could cover the opponents’ tight end. It feels like the Bengals have never once covered a tight end adequately. Even during their incredible season last year, studs like the Baltimore Ravens’ Mark Andrews and the Las Vegas Raiders Darren Waller gave the Bengals’ D fits. Maybe Hill can change all of that. Wouldn’t that be something?
All things considered, Hill was the right pick for the Bengals, both in the short-term and the long-term. Hill provides a jolt of athleticism and playmaking-ability to an already-strong secondary. His versatility will allow him to see the field even with Bates and fellow safety Von Bell in the mix. By next year, when both Bates and Bell’s contracts expire, Hill may allow them to keep up the strong safety play without breaking the bank. Maybe they keep all three and continue to mess with opposing offensive coordinators with their three-safety looks. Either way, Hill sets the Bengals up for a bright present and brighter future.