Jordan Hill is what the Seahawks need for their defense.
It’s a pretty obvious statement, considering they took him in the third round. How much did we talk about defensive tackle being a priority during the regular season? Every week? This pick wasn’t a reach or a desperate attempt to solve one of the few problem areas on the team. It was calculated, planned and inspired.
I’ve long been a fan of Hill’s, which is in part why I’m fairly positive about the pick. However, I wanted to go back and see what I’d actually written about Hill on the blog, before returning to the tape for a closer look. On January 29th I noted the following:
Out of all the players I’ve looked at so far, Penn State’s Jordan Hill is one of the players to keep an eye on in those mid-to-late rounds.
He’s 6-0 and 295lbs and plays with good leverage. If he gets a sniff of a gap he often takes advantage, using his speed to get into the backfield. In a 1v1 match-up he holds his own in the run game, holding his position with surprising power at the point of attack even against top offensive line opposition such as Wisconsin.
Hill’s a fighter — a relentless bundle of energy who defined his teams attitude last season. He chases outside of the tackle box, doesn’t give up on plays and often executes via the second effort. In the Senior Bowl he struggled a bit to generate pressure against a double team, but it was testament that the lineman even in that environment were consistently locking onto him and trying to shut him down. Although he didn’t challenge the quarterback against the double team, he more than held his own and managed to hold position. The Seahawks don’t have enough players on that defensive line right now that warrant a double team.
On February 14th after further tape review, I also wrote the following:
I cannot talk highly enough of this guy. He’s solid against the run despite a lack of pure size (6-0/6-1, 295lbs), he gets into the backfield to make plays and he’s got that little spark to his game that you want to see from a three technique.
Since the Seahawks drafted Jordan Hill, I’ve gone back to watch four Penn State games. You’ll find tape of two of the games below (vs Wisconsin, Iowa). The other two were Ohio State and Virginia from last season. You tend to watch a guy a little more closely when he’s going to be on the team. You look for ways in which he fills a need. I’m fairly confident Hill is the closest thing Seattle could find to the interior penetrator they needed. That’s without being in a realistic position to draft a guy like Sheldon Richardson.
I’m still not sure how the Seahawks intend to play their hand at defensive tackle. I’m not sure anyone is, because they have some options now. Clinton McDonald and Jaye Howard remain on the roster from last year. They signed Tony McDaniel in free agency and added Hill and Jesse Williams during the draft. They could rotate these guys to suit. Williams (who I’ve also watched more of since the weekend) is a one-dimensional player who offered very little pass rush in college. He was tough up the middle, difficult to move. In short yardage and goal-line situations he could be an asset. I’m not convinced he’ll offer any kind of pressure though, which is really what the Seahawks need inside.
To be more exact, they need a three technique. An orthodox three technique. A guy who isn’t completely hopeless against the run, but is quick enough to shoot a gap, force the guard or center into the pocket, get some pressure on the quarterback and move well laterally against the run. Hill ticks all of the boxes, which is why I think he’ll eventually win a starting job. He’s not an amazing athlete otherwise he’d have been going in the top-15 like Richardson. Yet the style of play is fairly similar. Even though Hill played a lot of one technique in college, he’s not merely a backup for Brandon Mebane. He can start at the three. And he can be disruptive.
Looking at the defensive line, they have the ability to use three different players at the LEO (Chris Clemons, Bruce Irvin and Cliff Avril). They can double up with speed off the edge in an obvious passing situation. They can use Michael Bennett as a specialist three technique or power end. They say they’ll try Avril and Irvin at linebacker. There’s so much potential there, so many different looks to present to an offense.
The biggest difference maker for Seattle’s pass rush next year might be from the inside in base. On 1st and 10 at the 20, I don’t think they’re going to get too cute with a lot of foreign looks. I think we’ll see a LEO alongside Red Bryant, Mebane and another (probably Hill). We’ll see three linebackers on the field. Or maybe two linebackers and Antoine Winfield in the slot. Just my guess. For the last three years in this situation, the entire responsibility for a pass rush lay with the LEO (Clemons). While that position has been productive for the Seahawks, alone it hasn’t been the catalyst for a fearsome pass rush.
Increasing the amount of pressure in base will take this defense to another level. Being able to really get at a team early will enhance Seattle’s status as a contender. Too many times last year they came up against a lousy offensive line filled with stopgaps and never took advantage. Press from the inside, collapse the pocket and watch the speed at the LEO position dominate.
Bennett will probably come in on third down or in situations where the other team has to chase. That’s the finishing move. The clincher. There’s improvements to be had here too — third down defense wasn’t good enough at times in 2012. Winfield also gives that area a boost.
But focusing on Hill, he offers a real chance to solve the issues in base. Let’s look at the Iowa tape. Fast forward to 2:14 in the video below:
The first thing to highlight isn’t a pass rushing move, but it’s a fun play nonetheless. Notice how well he moves laterally to the left, disengaging one block, picking through the traffic and making the tackle on a running back for a loss. That’s dominating. Let me refer back to the Bill Walsh ideal for a three technique:
“You are looking for somebody who can move down the line of scrimmage and make a tackle, pursuing a ball-carrier. That would be lateral quickness in a short area, being able to get underway and move over and through people. If you get knocked off the line, or get knocked sideways or knocked off balance, you cannot play this position. You must be able to work your way through people, so that kind of strength is a must.”
At 2:25 he’s lined up over the center and knifes through the A-gap to collapse the pocket. He forced the quarterback to move (and fumble) forcing a turnover. This is what Seattle needs. This is what it wasn’t getting from a nose tackle masquerading as a three technique last year (Alan Branch).
You want to see some hands? Go to 3:04 and watch how he schools the Iowa guard to break into the backfield for a big sack. Lost amid all the forty times and drills at the combine is the benefit of quick, aggressive hands. Hill has them. He can play stout against the run (holds position well) but he also has the ability to get into a lineman and quickly disengage, before rushing the passer.
Hill’s not the biggest guy, but he’s well proportioned. He’s got a nice thick base and room to get even bigger up top (muscle, rather than bad weight). I think it’s actually a good thing that he’s only 6-0 and 290-300lbs. Size is important but Hill clearly gets leverage because he’s a little shorter, he’s slight enough to stay mobile but not too small that he gets dominated. I hate comparing him to the best defensive tackle in the NFL, but that’s the kind of thing that helps Geno Atkins be so successful. Hill isn’t Atkins, but they share some similar characteristics.
At 3:25 he faces a center/guard double team. The guard eventually breaks off to try and attack the second level, but as a pair they fail to drive Hill backwards. As noted in the January piece I wrote, he faced a lot of double teams at the Senior Bowl and see you it often in the Penn State tape. He was the primary focus for the offensive lineman he faced. Very few — including Wisconsin’s brutish line — managed to slow him down.
It’s not all positive, of course. In the Iowa tape you see him get pushed back at 3:41. I’m willing to take my chances on that. There are going to be plays where he gets caught a little off balance and can’t recover. You can’t win every battle. But in the four games I’ve watched since the draft, I feel very comfortable about Hill’s ability to have an impact for this team and potentially solve a pretty big problem for the Seahawks. Only two other defensive tackles went off the board before Seattle took Jesse Williams in the fifth round (Brandon Williams, Akeem Spence). I’d argue they took Hill in just the right spot, from a value stand point and in terms of availability and need. He almost certainly wouldn’t have been there in the late fourth.
Seahawks fans should be excited about this pick.
The video below is of the Wisconsin game, always worth a watch: