After the success of rookie cornerbacks the past few years, more and more teams are clamoring for a number one corner that could help change the fortunes of their defenses. Whether it’s a Jalen Ramsey, a Marshon Lattimore, or a Tre’davious White, teams are realizing how important it is to have corners capable of covering top receivers. All of those teams vastly improved the following season in part because of the success of their rookie corners. While this class doesn’t have the obvious top talent, there are a lot of quality players that I think will make an impact and emerge as quality players later on. Today we will be taking a look at former University of Texas Longhorns corner Holton Hill.
A 6’3”, 200 lb. four-star recruit coming out of Houston, Texas, expectations were high for Holton Hill heading into college. He got off to a great start in his freshman season, starting eight of 12 games amassing four pass break-ups and 49 tackles, on his way to honorable mention All-Big 12 honors. His sophomore season was somewhat of a letdown. Coming off a promising freshman season, Hill missed seven games (coaches gave no clear explanation on his absence) during his sophomore year, recording only 22 tackles and five pass break-ups in five games. In Hill’s junior season, he appeared to be getting back on track, recording 51 tackles, six pass break-ups, and two interceptions while continually containing other teams’ top options. On November 7, he was suspended for a violation of team rules for the remaining three games, plus the bowl game, before declaring early for the NFL draft.
At Texas, Hill was asked to play in a variety of different coverages, where he showcased his combination of size, burst, agility, instincts, and tackling. In off coverage, although his technique needs to be refined (I’ll dive into that in the next section), he still managed to make plays solely with a quick burst, quickness, and instincts. Often times he found himself with a good amount of space to close on shorter routes, but still ended up breaking up the pass. In press coverage, Hill likes to “soft-shoe” and stay square, rather than shooting hands right off the snap. He shows the ability to stay patient and wait for the receiver to make a move up field, before getting his hands on the receiver to disrupt timing. In time, with more work on his techniques and footwork, I think Hill has a chance to excel in press where he can utilize his size, length, quickness, and instincts. At 6’3” with solid speed, Hill possess great range, rarely gave up anything downfield. When he is beat, he gets back into the play with good burst and the utilization of his long frame to disrupt passes at the catch point.
A big strength in Hill’s game is his willingness and proficiency in tackling. When you watch him, he stands out as a guy who enjoys tackling and takes pride in it. Hill frequently can be seen flying to the ball and making tackles for minimal to no gain in open space. He is an aggressive tackler that always finishes tackles physically, sometimes driving receivers backward. While his ball skills aren’t excellent, Hill shows the ability to make plays on the ball when it comes his way, as he intercepted two balls this season that went right to him and returned them to the house. Hill also can contribute on special teams as he plays on the punt team and field goal defensive unit, where he ran a blocked kick back for a touchdown.
On the field, Hill doesn’t possess a lot of weaknesses as he possesses all the traits necessary to be successful. The biggest issue on the field for me is Hill’s off-man technique. When breaking down off man technique, I want to see the corner use his eyes correctly and read the quarterback, then react based on what he does. Teams rarely threw deep against Hill when he lined up in off-coverage, instead taking easy hitch routes as Hill often was too far downfield to make a play. I can attribute this to one of three reasons; either he isn’t reading the quarterback, he’s not taking proper read-steps, or he is slow in reacting. I think it’s more so the second of the three. Most times, you see him reading the quarterback, but his first few steps lead him too far down the field. When playing off coverage, you want to look at the quarterback and read the quarterbacks steps by taking two “read-steps” (two steps backwards before you start to get in a backpedal), then look back to the receiver and react from there. This means that if the quarterback takes a three-step drop, the route will most likely be a 5-yarder (slant, short hitch, or speed out). If it is a three-step drop, the corner should immediately turn his head to the receiver, close the space between, and not look at the quarterback until the receiver is tightly “squeezed” to him. In Hill’s case, he starts out looking at the quarterback but takes his read-steps too fast, allowing receivers to have too much space. When he does that, he takes away the advantage of reading and reacting to the quarterback, leaving a lot of space for the quarterback and receiver to connect on easy completions. I’d like to see Hill read the quarterbacks’ steps more consistently, take his read-steps a little slower, and then snap his head back to the receiver then allowing his foot speed and explosion to take over. In press coverage, Hill is solid. At this point in his career he doesn’t possess the different techniques necessary to play press consistently. He will need to learn to start integrating his arms and hands more at the line of scrimmage from time to time. I also want to see him put on a little more muscle as he is on the skinny side. Adding a little strength will only help Hill have the ability to be an even more physical player both in pass coverage and run support.
On talent alone, Hill is one of the top corners in the class, but there are noticeable character issues. Hill was mysteriously left out of seven games as a sophomore as a coach’s decision for unspecified reasons. He then followed that up by being suspended for the last three games of the 2017 season for a violation of team rules. Hill obviously has talent, but a lot of teams will be concerned especially after witnessing the Eli Apple fiasco. In the end, it will be up to Hill to turn around his life and start making better decisions. On the field, Hill is still one of the better prospects so it will be interesting to see what team will take a chance on him and in what round. If he can manage to stay on the field, Hill has the ability to fit into multiple schemes as he displayed at Texas; he is comfortable playing in both off-man and press coverage and will improve with a few technical fixes. Hill also has the ability to play in press with his length, physicality, and foot speed. Hill’s on-field issues are easily fixable. You can teach a guy technique, but you can’t teach his blend of athleticism, size, and instincts. With some extra coaching and practice, he has the potential to develop into a Richard Sherman type player, excelling in press and off with good length alongside his run support and tackling. The bigger question is if he will be able to get over the issues that plagued him at Texas and mature into a guy that can stay out of trouble. If Holton Hill can do these things listed, he will become a quality NFL player with the upside to develop into a number one guy.