Cowboys 2013 Draft Targets: Penn State DT Jordan Hill

Justin K. Aller

Because there has been such a high correlation in recent years between the top collegians invited to Valley Ranch for pre-draft visits and who the Cowboys end up drafting, its important to know as much as possible about these players. As a service to you, BTB offers a series of detailed scouting reports on these players, compiled from the work of top draft analysts. Today, we'll look at Penn State defensive tackle Jordan Hill.

Although not a five-star recruit as an All-State gridder, Jordan Hill managed to secure a scholarship to Penn State in 2009 and has improved every year since. In his Freshman season, he was almost redshirted, but sharp Summer camp play earned a him not only a spot on the team but snaps in a D-line rotation featuring future NFLers Jared Odrick, Ollie Ogbu, and Devon Still, playing the final eight games and logging 12 tackles and a sack. In 2010, Hill played in all 13 games (four starts), recording 36 Tackles (seven of them in a big game against top-ranked Alabama), two for losses, and half a sack.

In 2011, Hill broke out, starting all 13 games and leading all linemen with 59 Tackles, 8 TFL's, a team-leading three fumble recoveries, a forced fumble, two PBUs and 3.5 Sacks, enough to garner honorable-mention All-Big Ten recognition. Nevertheless, Hill flew under the radar, as national attention was focused on his linemate, current Cincinnati Bengal Devon Still. In his Senior year, without Still drawing most of the attention, Jordan managed to increase his production for the fourth consecutive season, posting 64 Tackles (8.5 for loss), and 4.5 Sacks, and an interception. For this, he was named first-team All-Big Ten.

At 6'1" and 303 pounds, Hill is shorter (and smaller) than scouts prefer. He manages to use that to his advantage, getting leverage against taller O-linemen. Like the other DL prospects in whom the Cowboys have expressed interest, Hill has good initial quickness and appears to have one-gap potential, using hustle and quickness to beat opponents off the line. Want ocular proof? Here's Hill in Big Ten contests against Wisconsin and Iowa as well as a highlight reel against a panoply of other teams.

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After you've formed an opinion of Hill's work, it might be useful to check it against top draftniks' scouting takes. Lets read what they have to say:

ESPN/ Scouts, Inc. (Gary Horton): 12th-rated DT; not in top 150

Versus Run: A one gap up run defender. At his best on the move where he can use his quickness. Can win with initial quickness and when staying low. Shows ability to anchor in one-on-one situations. However, anchoring will never be his strength and can be folded by effective double teams. Upper body appears stronger than lower body at this point. Active hands and shows good hand-to-hand combat to disengage. Above-average range for a DT. Chases and flashes ability to deliver a heavy hit.

Pass Rush Skills: Has made strides in this area from 2011 to 2012 season. Displays good upside in this area with quickness and active hands. Most effective on the move. Flashes quick change of direction skills when executing twist or slants. Limited power when attempting bull rush and can be turned away once stymied. Flashes a wide array of pass rushing moves. Above-average closing burst. Does not have finishing power at this point. Needs to be more discipline with gap integrity.

Quickness (hands/ feet): Above-average quickness with hands and feet. Displays a quick first step and can win the first to the spot battle. Flashes quick and active hands. Overall power is just average though. Moves well laterally and transitions well when redirecting.

Toughness/ Motor: Relentless would be an overstatement. However, a fighter that makes plays with second effort and chases run outside tackle box. Gets pushed around at times but not for lack of effort. Doesn't back down from challenges.

Intangibles: Selected as a defensive co-captain in 2012. Son of Larry and Sue Hill. Recipient of the Jim O'Hora Award, presented by the coaching staff to a defensive player for "exemplary conduct, loyalty, interest, attitude and improvement" during spring practice in 2011. Started three games at defensive end in 2010.

CBSSports.com (Rob Rang): 11th-rated DT; 127th overall

Strengths: Good lateral agility with quick feet to sidestep blockers and knife through the offensive line. Flexible body type to make smooth movements and a quick first step when he correctly times up his get-off. Plays low with natural leverage. Ordinary upper body strength but active and strong hands and wrists.

Keeps eyes elevated at the line of scrimmage to get his hands on passes (even snatched an interception against Virginia in 2012). Good raw power for his smaller frame and plays with a feisty temperament. Goes hard on every play and can be a pesky player to block with his nonstop motor and effort. Was spark plug of Penn State defensive line and rarely left the field. Plays smart. Rangy to make plays outside the numbers.

Weaknesses: Light in the pants and can be driven wherever the blockers want at times. Shorter stature with limited length and short arms, lacking ideal NFL measurables. Lacks elite upper-body strength to overwhelm offensive linemen. Needs to improve snap anticipation. Dangerous in space and in 1-on-1 situations but not as effective in a crowd, where he can get lost or pushed around. Missed some time in 2012 with a left knee sprain, playing rest of the season with a clunky brace.

Compares To: Trevor Laws, DT, St. Louis Rams - Quick, undersized interior players who project best as rotational and depth players than long-term starters.

Pro Football Weekly (Nolan Nawrocki): 12th-rated DT; 140th overall

Positives: Nice initial quickness. Good enough foot athlete to work edges. Quick, active hands. Shows burst to close on the quarterback. Gives effort in pursuit. Solid character - smart, tough, durable.

Negatives: Average size. Short on functional strength and power. Can't bull the pocket. Struggles to hold up double teams. Can improve blocking recognition. One-gapper only.

Summary: Even with the loss of Bengals' second-rounder Devon Still, Hill found a way to produce, exhibiting enough athleticism and quickness to contribute on passing downs as part of a 4-3 defensive-line rotation. Could fill a similar role in the pros.

National Football Post (Russ Lande): 20th-rated DT; 180th overall

Strengths: Quick and active, Hill makes more plays than expected and is constantly around the ball. When he maintains leverage, uses hands aggressively and gets hands on blocker first, he can jolt offensive line run blocker, holds ground and flashes ability to shed and make the tackle. His initial quickness helps him to shoot gap to get backfield penetration to disrupt plays in backfield. When offenses pull the offensive linemen over him and try to "reach block" him, he bursts into backfield to make tackle behind the LOS. On outside runs he gets started towards the ball quickly, accelerates to full speed fast and has the playing speed to chase down the ball carrier outside along sideline in pursuit. He uses strong, quick hands to defeat one on one pass blocks well when he has space to work with. An instinctive defender, Hill consistently reads and reacts to the play quickly and looks surprisingly comfortable and aware when he drops off the ball into short area coverage when they zone blitz.

Weaknesses: Hill is not only an under-sized defensive tackle, but on film he looks and plays even smaller than his measured size. While he can be effective taking on run blocks and anchoring when he gets his hands on offensive linemen first, he can be completely dominated and ridden out of the play when they get ahold of him first. Additionally, the offensive linemen he will face in the NFL are even bigger and stronger. He lacks the size and playing strength to anchor or split double team blocks. At the Senior Bowl he really struggled as the linemen were able to lock up on him fast and he was a non-factor much of the three padded practices in Mobile.

Summary: A highly competitive player, Hill was constantly around the ball making more tackles than expected when I began evaluating him. Although he does not have the size and playing strength to be an effective two gap defensive tackle, his combination of quick feet, good hand use and athleticism make him well suited to being an "under tackle" in a 4-3 defense or a defensive end in a 3-4 defense similar to that played by San Diego and Pittsburgh. Overall, I would not draft Hill early because of his struggles producing once a blocker locks up on him. However, on the third day of the Draft he would be a valuable pick because he has many of the traits to be an excellent backup and contribute on special teams. If he improves his playing strength and produces more when taking on offensive line blockers he could become a starter similar to Brandon Mebane.

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Because he has at best average size for the position, Hill isn't likely to be as high on the draft boards of teams' that want wide-bodied space-eaters manning the defensive front. On the other hand, the organizations (Seahawks, Broncos, Cowboys, Bears) that value burst, lateral quickness and movement skills, should have him higher on their boards, as he looks to be a nice one-gap nose tackle option. Our collected draftniks (who slot Hill between picks 127 and 180) probably reflect to some degree the conventional wisdom that values size, so I'm inclined to slot Hill a little higher. I'll place him in fourth round on my 2013 "little board."

Like Bennie Logan, the draft target we just looked at, Hill doesn't look to be starter material. But he has some traits (good quick, leverage, strong and active hands) upon which the Cowboys' new 4-3 scheme places a premium. Therefore, as with Logan, I wouldn't feel comfortable with Hill starting and playing 60 snaps a game, but would happily see him as a part of a D-line rotation designed to get fresh bodies on the field late in games.

Next up: Texas A&M defensive end Demontre Moore

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