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Inside The Pick: Bengals Go BPA With Daxton Hill's Elite Versatility

Daxton Hill on the move.
Daxton Hill on the move.

As expected, the phone rang almost incessantly in the Bengals draft room Thursday night as the first round of the most unpredictable NFL Draft in the last 15 years or so wound to an end.

There were plenty of chances to move back from the 31st pick the Bengals earned with their Super Bowl trip. But the way it played out, it seemed like the Bengals weren't moving if Michigan hybrid Daxton Hill wasn't.

It's the only time in his versatile career he's stayed in one spot. With Purdue edge George Karlaftis not going until the Chiefs picked him right before them at No. 30, it was worth letting the phones rung. Also leering at them from the board was Washington cornerback Kyler Gordon and he's still there heading into the second round.

Clearly, Hill had been high on their draft board, an elite guy in draft bereft of elite players. If you wanted a BPA, a best- player-available-draft, this was your baby. They wouldn't have been surprised if he had been drafted in the teens. The Athletic's Dane Brugler has been getting a lot of play around Cincy and his board had Hill rated 20th.

And so you didn't mind the wait consumed by the longest commercial in the history of the FCC before NFL commissioner Roger Goodell uttered Hill's name at about 11:30 p.m.

Not for BPA.

"He was a player that we thought very highly of and were surprised he was there for us," said Bengals head coach Zac Taylor after Hill became his first defensive first-rounder in his four-year tenure. "We think he will be a great weapon for us on defense, and we can use him in a lot of different ways."

Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo, who can't wait to get him to use those different things, ticked off what Hill can do.

"This guy can cut, he can blitz off the edge and recover good against the run. And he's good at getting off blocks and things like that. We're getting a good overall football player," Anarumo said. "We're going to let him come in here and then see what the shiny new toy can do. We're excited about him."

The Bengals personnel boxes that they covet were checked. Speed. Brains. (Twice All Big Ten Academic.) A total of 33 games in three years playing on one of the biggest stages in the country that is actually nicknamed "The Big House."

The Bengals have extremely close ties to Michigan. The area scout, Andrew Johnson, grew up in Ann Arbor. Assistant linebackers coach Jordan Kovacs was a Michigan captain under coach Jim Harbaugh. When Bengals scout Bill Tobin ran the Bears, he drafted Harbaugh, and when he ran the Colts they went to an AFC title game together.

"I would say having a good heart," Hill said of what he brings beyond versatility. "Not really paying attention to myself, but making sure my teammates and the people around me are playing to the best of their abilities — making sure I'm doing the best that I can for those guys, so really not focusing on myself."

That 4.38-second 40-yard dash is a huge draw in a division with quarterbacks Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson and tight ends Mark Andrews, David Njoku and Pat Freiermuth, Anarumo is always looking to flood the middle with speed.

"His measurables are great, if you look at what he ran and all of those different things. We're going to chase around two of the toughest quarterbacks in the league this year four times," Anarumo said. "The more speed we have on the field, the better we'll be. So he lends that. There's certainly going to be a learning curve — there is for every rookie, especially in the back end. We'll give him just enough on his plate to see how much he can handle and kind of take it from there."

Earlier in the month Anarumo said cornerback was a priority and there was Gordon. But Taylor indicated they can get one later. They weren't, he said, passing on his fellow Oklahoman.

"We just felt like Dax was a premier player that was just sitting right there for us, and we took him," Taylor said. "There are certainly other positions we'll continue to address as the draft plays out."

Anarumo has shaped his 3-4 base defense on hybrid players and in the 6-0, 192-pound Hill, he may have found his poster player with that 4.38-second 40. Hill moved from safety to slot cornerback this year and the beauty of this pick is they're not quite sure what are all the things he can eventually do. Mike Potts, the club's director of college scouting, isn't ruling out Hill one day being able to play cornerback on the outside.

(Which may be another reason they didn't leap at a cornerback right away and went strictly grade.)

"He has the skill set to do it. We just have to let him come in here and see what he can do," Potts said. "We've seen him in the slot. That's where you see him now. Anything else (at cornerback) is a projection. But the guy's an elite athlete that has size and length to him. And there's really not a lot he can't do athletically. There's not a whole lot of deficiencies."

It would seem Hill is coming in to back up slot cornerback Mike Hilton, as well as one of the NFL's best safety tandems in Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell. He's certainly not looking to play just one spot.

"I would consider myself both. I don't want to limit myself to one position," Hill said from his draft party in his hometown of Tulsa. "Whatever that is, the coaches will put me wherever that may be. For sure, being a hybrid player throughout my entire career. I don't really want to limit myself, because I know I can play other positions.

"I came in at safety, so I feel like safety. And then this year having that slot corner role was something I really developed throughout the season. I can see myself doing either or, but for sure coming in as a safety. I definitely have instincts as a safety, but I can also play that slot corner."

With Bates designated the Bengals' franchise free agent and Bell heading into the last year of his deal, Taylor emphasized the pick was about his team.

"We just added a really good player to the room that's going to help us on defense and helps us get back to where we want to go," Taylor said. "The guys on the team understand we're just trying to win football games and add any piece that can do it. This guy, like Lou mentioned, can be a third safety but can also play a lot of different roles for you. So it's not that simple to say he's just a one-position type of guy. He can really come in and help us a lot of different ways in combination with Vonn and Jessie."

One of the things Anarumo is going to ask him to do is to blitz and while Anarumo doesn't do much of it, you can sell him on it if his players can do it.

"That is something I definitely enjoy doing. It's something I did a lot at Michigan. Wreaking a little bit of havoc throughout the year," Hill said. "I feel like I can do the same thing as well at the Bengals. They'll probably do that with me this year, so whatever that is, I'm for it and willing to get better at it, for sure."

The Best Player Available is going to be available to the media at Paul Brown Stadium Friday before the Bengals make the 63rd pick in a second round that begins at 7 p.m.

It's one of those rare times he won't be moving. Taylor loves safeties who can move around. He's already seen it with Bates and Bell.

"They create issues as well, because they're really smart players, and they do a great job of communicating and disguising," Taylor said. "So you add another piece there that fits in the mold of what those guys have already started getting going for us … It helps make our defense better."

Take a look inside Daxton Hill's first day at Paul Brown Stadium.


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