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Emptying the Notebook: Leroy Hill

Holy Smokes! Attack of the unexpected phone call! Well, an hour and a half later, here's the Hill retro. And now it looks like I have to fix my car. Hooray! So, I'll do a couple short ones on Peterson and Grant and then be done with these. Next week is all playoff previews all the time.

Leroy Hill

His first season, Hill recorded 8 sacks. That's a money stat, one that talking heads can blather about. Since that season, and the subsequent signing of a similar but superior player, Julian Peterson, the shine has come off Hill. The shine, but not the substance. Since Peterson joined the Hawks, Hill has been deemphasized as a pass rusher. He no longer is the primary blitzer in Marshall's bevy of linebacker blitzes. In 2005 he was a run stuffer and selective pass rusher, rarely playing more than a few yards from the line of scrimmage and generally allowed to freelance.

In 2006, Hill was deployed in coverage. A lot. Year one of coverage backer, Leroy Hill, was a mild disaster. Hill's sacks plummeted. He no longer was a force against the rush. And, who boy, you'd be stretched to see a more clueless linebacker in coverage. That's one reason the Hawks drafted Will Herring. I say mild, though, because while the initial results where indubitably disastrous, the gamble has since paid dividends. I went back through all 13 games he's played in and recorded every play he was involved in minus sacks, 83 all told. I then separated that into run and pass plays. Hill has been involved in 33 pass plays - a significant contribution. Of those, 22 have been successful. I don't need to tell you that's a 67% success rating. I may not be using the standard FO model, I considered pass plays on first and 10 that net 5 yards a failure for the O and a success for the D, because of the inherent risk involved w/ passing. I also called one play that netted 8 yards on 2 and 11, but ended in a forced fumble by Hill, a Stop, because the FF trumps the 8 yard gain. Again, I did not list sacks, because that's not pertinent to what we're judging, but did include pass defenses or pressures that led to incomplete passes. Hill you might be surprised to know, is listed as having more passes defensed than pressures. To put that into perspective, Kirk Morrison, considered one of the best cover linebackers in football, was targeted 29 times, and recorded a 67% success rating. That 67% was good for 6th in the NFL among LBs. If that stat has a failing, it is that it only reports the plays Hill made. To put a more global perspective on it, switching from 2 safeties who played very close to the line of scrimmage, to 2 safeties who play very far from the line of scrimmage, the Hawks have improved at defending TEs from 14.6% (26th) in 2006, to 10.1% (14th) in 2007. They have also improved at defending against receiving rushers, -10.2 (16th) in 2006, to -26.1% (3) in 2007. That's a sizable improvement, with the same stable of LBs, and a pair of safeties better at stopping the deep pass, but are less involved against tight ends and receiver backs. Much of that, as evidenced in his superlative Stop Rate, is Leroy Hill. That's some exciting progress from the Hawks' stellar young linebacker. At the same time, he's still a force against the run and an excellent, excellent pass rusher when called upon. Trusting Hill to learn on the job has taken a good young linebacker and turned him into a complete linebacker. Hill's progress is a triumph for the coaching staff.