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Analyzing the Bengals selecting Daxton Hill with the 31st pick

Hill is the newest member of the Bengals’ secondary. Here’s why he was picked at the end of Round 1.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

At the very end of the first round, the Cincinnati Bengals took arguably the best player available in Michigan defensive back Daxton Hill.

A lot of notable names linked to the Bengals went off the board right before the 31st pick, including Kaiir Elam, Devonte Wyatt, and George Karlaftis. By the time the Bengals were on the clock, Hill was staring them in the face as a player who should’ve been picked a lot sooner.

It’s not all roses and rainbows, though. There has to be a plan to get a guy like Hill on the field as a rookie, and considering his most-played position in college was slot cornerback, the Bengals will be tasked with getting creative with him.

From a long-term perspective, this pick could do wonders for Cincinnati’s defense. Hill is the first defensive player taken in the first round by the Bengals since 2016, and the first safety taken that early since 1992.

What Hill brings to the Bengals

If there was a defensive back that resembled a Swiss army knife in this year’s class, outside of Kyle Hamilton, it would be Hill. In his three years at Michigan, he played in the slot, box, and back at free safety, with slot cornerback being the position he specialized in 2021. Michigan placed him there due to his stickiness in coverage and elite change of direction skills, but in the instances where Hill was more in space, he showcased fluid hips and elite reactionary skills as well.

On film, Hill looks the part of a versatile piece in the secondary. He’s not tremendous taking on blocks, and he doesn’t have the experience on the boundary to fill in at cornerback right now, but his footwork and hips are amongst the best in this year’s crop of safeties and slot defenders.

In an already impressive defensive backfield, Hill might just be the best athlete already. He tested in the 95th percentile for flexibility (3-cone and short shuttle) and 83rd percentile in speed for his density. No matter where he plays, he’s not going to be an athletic liability. He moves like he belongs at the next level.

Why the Bengals picked Hill

Hill has a great case for being the best player available at the end of Round 1. That’s usually reason enough to turn the card in for a team that just went to the Super Bowl, but there are other factors to this as well.

As a prospect, Hill was not only really athletic, he was really productive at Michigan. Factoring in his age and competition he faced, Hill produced in the 99th percentile according to market share data provided by James Cobern. The very best safeties to have played NFL football in the past several decades have usually scored over the 90th percentile.

Hill has the data to warrant a first-round investment, and the Bengals typically value high-level production out of their drafted safeties. See Jessie Bates (97th percentile) and Shawn Williams (90th percentile).

Logistically, Hill projects to start at safety next year in place of either Bates or Vonn Bell. Both players are expected to play in contract years, with Bates having the franchise tag placed on him and Bell entering the last year of the three-year deal he signed in 2020. This pick gives defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo a year to develop Hill before bestowing a starting role on him in 2023.

So yes, the drafting of Hill all but means one of Bates or Bell is gone after this year, but they have a promising replacement in the wings in Hill.

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