Bengals Go With Speed in Michigan's Dax Hill At No. 31

New Bengal Daxton Hill on the move.
New Bengal Daxton Hill on the move.

For the first time in 30 years Thursday night the Bengals opted for a safety in the first round of the NFL Draft when they chose Michigan's speedy Daxton Hill with the 31st pick.

The 6-foot, 191-pound Hill oozes with the versatility Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo covets. Hill played the slot for the Wolverines last season and was all over the place with 70 tackles, 4.5 for loss, two interceptions and nine pass breakups. Some call him the best nickel cornerback in the draft, but his 4.38-second 40-yard dash also allows him to be an elite NFL free safety. The word is Hill not only can line up as the nickel, but he's got the range to align as a deep centerfielder in single-high coverage.

He'll learn from two of the best safeties in the NFL in Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell, both working with one year left on their deals with Bates designated the club's franchise free agent.

University of Miami's Darryl Williams was their last first-round safety in 1992 when the Bengals took him with the last pick in the round at No. 28. It worked out pretty well the last time the Bengals went with a Michigan defensive back No. 1: Long-time cornerback standout Leon Hall at No. 18 in 2007.

"We can use him a lot of different ways. He's a good blitzer and he can get off blocks," Anarumo said as the clock went past 11:30 p.m. with Hill in the fold. "We play a lot of three safety looks ... maybe it allows you to do more things but we'll see."

Head coach Zac Taylor joined Anarumo and recalled that Hill was one of the 45 interviews the Bengals had at the NFL scouting combine. As for the impact on Bates and Bell, Taylor said, "He can do so many different things that it's just not one position we're talking about ... This is just about adding a good player."

The Bengals passed on Washington cornerback Kyler Gordon and Clemson cornerback Andrew Booth, Jr., a position Anarumo said was a priority. Taylor indicated they feel they can address those needs later as the Bengals welcomed their first defensive No. 1 in the Taylor era and first since Houston cornerback William Jackson III went No. 24 in 2016.

"We felt that at that point (Hill) was a premier player," Taylor said.

Hill spent the night in his hometown of Tulsa, Okla., with about 60 family and friends and said he had a good feeling about the Bengals when he met with them at the combine.

"Words really can't describe how I feel," Hill said. "I consider myself both (safety and cornerback). Being a hybrid my whole career, I'm not going to limit myself."

Hill said he watched the Bengals last year and said, "I could see myself playing in that defense."

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