One legitimate criticism of the Pete Carroll/John Schneider draft regime is that it has not unearthed "diamonds in the rough" on the defensive line with the same consistency as at numerous other positions. Even if you designate Bruce Irvin as primarily a LEO defensive end, the team has received comparatively little value from its draft picks at defensive tackle and end.
The jury remains out on a few recent selections as they recover from injury, including 2013 pick Jordan Hill and 2012 pick Greg Scruggs. We have seen flashes from Scruggs, and the coaching staff appears to have plans for him. By contrast, coming into the season I wondered whether Hill would ever amount to much. We hadn't seen much, and even now we must wait on the rest of the season to unfold. The first few games have shown that pre-draft concerns about his ability to anchor against the run were to some degree spot on. Still, he has flashed the quickness and active hands that hint at his potential to more than adequately replace Clint McDonald.
Looking for Range Rather Than Central Tendency
With just three games played it is unwise to look for generalizations about whether Hill is good, bad, or mediocre overall. But, three games is the data we have, and all data tells you something. Just not everything. Three games, with a good number of snaps, can tell us about the basic range in the quality of his play. That is, three games can show us what Hill excels at and what remains a work in progress. This is of course with the all caps caveat that HILL IS STILL EVOLVING as a player.
In reviewing game film it is worth noting that Hill spells both Brandon Mebane at the 1-technique and Kevin Williams at the 3-technique at times. The lion's share of his snaps come on passing downs. Coming out of Penn State, the book on Hill was that he was undersized and probably best-suited to be a situational pass rusher. His active hands, impressive initial burst, and motor would always provide value in sub-packages. But, he would struggle to anchor and take on double teams. That assessment seemingly limits him to being a rotational player (which is nothing to dismiss from the 3rd round and later). However, Hill has put some plays on film that hint at his potential to grow into a larger role.
The Floor: Shooting Guard in a Point Guard's Body
This is a common criticism of undersized shooting guards in basketball. But it is just as likely to indicate certain biases of the evaluator as much as real limitations of the player. Some body types obviously come with inherent limitations in the ability to perform certain tasks adequately. Other times, having "the wrong body" is simply a euphemism for the evaluator's strongly held prototype bias. For some, a "true" point guard looks and plays a certain way and when people don't fit the bill they have a hard time evaluating performance on its own merits. Striking a balance between being clear and honest about a player's real limitations while avoiding prototypicality bias is probably the most difficult thing to do in talent evaluation.
Finding that balance with Hill is especially challenging. In some ways I'm still not sure what he is. Seattle lines him up at 1-technique typically, spelling Brandon Mebane. I wonder, "why are they asking this top-heavy guy with the lightening quick get off to play over the center and take on double team blocks?" As you can see from the play below, there are times he can be swallowed up. (I'll beg forgiveness on the videos. I'm still learning my way around the software.)
Although that play isn't enough to establish that Hill is some outright liability against the run, it does establish that Hill isn't what you'd call "country strong." Once he loses the leverage battle against a double team he typically cannot compensate for it by anchoring down with brute force from the lower body and core. When Hill wins he does it on explosion and get off that compromises the integrity of the double. By contrast, Mebane frequently beats doubles (or at least neutralizes them) by anchoring with his fire hydrant physique.
At first glance, Hill seems like a Kiffin-inspired 3-technique right from central casting. Yet that apparently is not how Carroll and Quinn see it. In fairness though, it's hard to know how much that decision is influenced by the team's desire to manage Kevin Williams' snaps and the injury to Greg Scruggs.
The Ceiling: Jor-Dan The Disruptor
When we turn to where Hill excels, there's good reason for optimism about his future. I don't necessarily see superstar flashes, but I see where teams will increasingly need to devote attention to him. His hand use is all kinds of grissiony good. He has been quite close to some big time disruptive plays, even against double teams.
His best game in this regard was Denver.
Go back to Kam Chancellor's 4th quarter interception. Notice the pressure from Hill. Hill converts speed and explosion to power, and simply walks the guard back into Manning. He got nothing on the throw, allowing Chancellor to catch the ball rather than just tip it. (Ironically, that might have saved Wes Welker' life.)
Hill also had a near miss on a big play earlier in the second half on the first play following Wilson's tipped ball interception.
Denver stones his initial rush, but Hill demonstrates his excellent hand use. He avoids the cut, recovers, and tips the ball in the air. Wright is unable to chorale the interception. If you go back to the San Diego game, it is amazing that Phillip Rivers was able to operate in that pocket. Hill made him very uncomfortable.
Summary: Lot's to Like, But Lot's on Film
Whatever faith the team team placed in Hill when it lost McDonald to free agency seems well-placed right now. Hill seems to be playing that role quite well. He has holes in his game against the run, especially considering how much one technique he plays. But, he has some real talent. He can be a disruptive force.
As I said earlier, three games is plenty to establish a reasonable impression of a player's range of strengths and weaknesses. It doesn't tell us much about consistency. Now that some of his play is on film, I imagine that the offensive coordinators will take notice of Hill and try to force him to play to his weaknesses. They surely recognize his struggles against double teams. I have little doubt they will try to target him with power. It will be interested to see how he and the defensive staff adjust.