The Cincinnati Bengals took Michigan safety Dax Hill with the 31st pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.
He is one of the most versatile players in this draft class. He was named first team to the All-Big Ten Team as a junior, playing both slot corner and safety. He’s an extremely fluid and athletic prospect that should find his way onto the field as a rookie.
Let's take a closer look at Hill's game.
What He Does Well
- Hill is both a smooth and twitchy athlete with track speed. He can stick with wide receivers on vertical routes, while having smooth hips and ability to quickly change direction.
- Hill comes flying off of the roof of the defense to make stops. He plays with his hair on fire to click and close. He'll even take the opportunity to run through or fast fit in the run game. This ability makes sense with his athleticism, but it’s nice to see that he is a willing tackler as a defensive back.
- He does a good job in man coverage from the slot. Whether it’s against vertical routes, out breakers, or in breakers, Hill has shown that he can blanket these receivers in man-to-man coverage.
- Very good ball skills to break up passes. He'll consistently knock the ball free from the receiver or swat the ball down before the wide-out has a chance to catch the ball.
- Impressive blitzer that showcases his athleticism with a knack for getting off of the ball and timing the snap count. He can blitz both from depth or on the line of scrimmage and impact the quarterback.
- His versatility is definitely a positive. He has a plethora of experience as both a deep safety and as a slot defender and excelled at both roles. I'm not sure about his ability to play on the outside, but this versatility should allow for him to play a variety of roles on the Bengals defense. The man in the slot ability is critical to playing Cover 1 with a linebacker as a hole defender instead of lurk or robber. It's something the Bengals have been missing on defense.
Areas of Concern
- He doesn’t come off of blocks very well. I would question his ability to play within the box for more than a couple snaps per game. It shouldn't be an issue this year with Vonn Bell on the roster, but it’s something to watch moving forward.
- Size could be an issue while he's covering tight ends. He gets boxed out fairly often and doesn’t seem to be able to reach around those big bodies to knock the ball free, even though he is pretty long.
- A little bit too jittery and aggressive when facing jabs and double moves. Needs to be more confident in his athleticism and technique in coverage.
The Bengals by consensus got a guy that fell to them at 31. This is what you want to see from them especially with some of the guys they may have targeted going off the board right before them. They stayed calm and took the best player available in round one, rather than reaching for a need like they've done in the past (Billy Price, 2018).
Hill should see the field plenty as a slot defender. He can be put in this spot as a third safety in big nickel or dime sets. He can play underneath in Cover 1 or Cover 3. He’s got some similarities to Mike Hilton with his ability to get off the ball and utilize his athleticism when blitzing. He could spell Hilton in the slot when needed.
Hill still needs work in man coverage because of how aggressive he is against jabs and double moves, but overall he should be a plus addition in this area. He’s also a menace when it comes to jamming receivers in press. He will hit them with powerful, quick two hand jams to disrupt timing and the route distribution.
In zone he keeps good eyes and can play top down with his fantastic closing ability. The Bengals like to be multiple in their coverages, fronts, and personnel packages, so Hill’s versatility is extremely valuable to them. I don’t see him as an outside cornerback, but he can play any other defensive back spot on the team. I wouldn’t mind seeing him add a little bit more weight so that he can more commonly play within the box and take on blocks. As of now I’m not sure if he can play down there, even though I like his willingness to tackle. He's more of an overhang defender than a box safety.
As a deep safety, Hill can back up both Jessie Bates and Vonn Bell. He can also come in and take Ricardo Allen/Michael Thomas' third safety role. He may play deep in these situations, allowing for Bates and Bell to rob stuff underneath or he can play underneath with Bates roaming sideline to sideline.
I have some questions about his ability to do what Tre Flowers was able to do in terms of size, but I do think he has the technique and aggression to play against tight ends. He just needs to find a way to put himself in a better position consistently against these guys so he isn’t boxed out. Hill’s closing speed and athleticism should make him a pretty rangy safety over time. Overall as a player he is a little bit raw for a first round pick, but he has an immense ceiling. This was a good pick by the Bengals and if he plays up to his potential, it could be a great pick.
Fit Within the Bengals' Scheme
This year he should be an immaculate fit in three safety sets, but it’s not a perfect. He also can back up multiple positions, give breathers to guys, and can be brought in as the dime corner. He may only play about 300 snaps during the season, but his versatility will be very useful against the Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs, and other pass happy teams.
I would expect him to take one of the starting safety spots after the 2022 season. He has the potential to become a very rangy free safety and the mentality to become a hard hitting strong safety. Maybe with the way the NFL is going, they'll just consider him one of the two versatile split safeties.
Hill will give the Bengals the ability to let Logan Wilson play some more hole coverage in Cover 1 instead of being tasked with man-to-man matchups against opposing running backs.
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