The reaction by Dallas Cowboys fans to their team drafting Central Florida defensive lineman Trysten Hill with the 58th overall selection was mixed. On one hand, defensive tackle, particularly the three-technique position, was a major need heading into the draft. On the other hand, there were likely other players at other positions ranked higher on the team’s board.
For example, Cowboys beat reporter Mike Fisher claimed that offensive lineman Connor McGovern from Penn State, the team’s eventual third-round pick, received a higher grade than the former UCF Knight.
— fishsports (@fishsports) April 30, 2019
And if one were to take a hard-line stance with Dane Brugler’s Top-100 Draft Board, they’d see that Hill was given a late third-round grade.
Did Dallas ignore better prospects so they could reach for the young defensive tackle, or were they justified in making him their first selection in last month’s draft?
The short answer is both yes and no. As contradictory and noncommittal as that statement is, it’s important to remember that drafting isn’t an exact science. Nuances exist that can make the path to building a successful roster a winding one.
A Coach’s Perspective and Influence
The biggest factors in favor of taking Hill in the second round were his physical traits and the belief that the defense as a whole would benefit more from acquiring a disruptive under tackle than a play-making safety. Bryan Broaddus, Cowboys analyst and former pro scout, in a recent appearance on local radio station 105.3 The Fan, said secondary coach and defensive passing game coordinator Kris Richard endorsed taking Hill over safety Juan Thornhill out of Virginia.
According to a paraphrased quote from Broaddus: “I’m using my words [here]. But Kris went into the room and basically explained: ‘If we don’t have defensive linemen, my safeties aren’t gonna mean a damn.’”
Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram corroborated this statement in his article the day after the pick was made. According to his sources, “Richard felt free safety Xavier Woods has a chance to develop into a star. With Thornhill pegged as a free safety, which would force the Cowboys to play [more 2-high safety defense] rather than true free and strong safeties, Richard cast his ballot for [Hill].”
Although the team brass still may have drafted Hill without Richard signing off, his support solidified belief in their decision.
The UCF product’s initial quickness/get-off at the snap and motor are what pop off the tape when studying his film. His ability to jump out of his stance and engage blockers before they can fully drop into their pass sets is what separates him from the average defensive tackle.
As Jason Garrett explained in the post-draft press conference, “He’s raw but you see all those traits. And the stuff that he has is a lot of the stuff you simply can’t teach. The combination of size and the physical traits of movement and quickness. He has that.”
Simply put, a 6-foot-3-inch, 308-pound man with his level of suddenness and burst is rare. And in a one-gapping system like defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli’s that highly covets those traits, the Cowboys are confident he’ll thrive in their scheme despite Hill clashing with the UCF staff last year.
From the team’s perspective, the Florida native’s personality will mesh well with the fiery and demanding veteran coach. His scheme is built upon effort and attacking one’s gap with speed and quickness. If there’s one coach that can take Hill’s two noteworthy traits and mold him into a havoc-wreaking playmaker, it’s Marinelli.
The two already have a strong rapport from the pre-draft process, according to USA Today reporter Jori Epstein’s latest article. Through the combine and a private workout, they’ve gotten to know each other well. Hill even spoke to the Dallas coach multiple times over the phone in the weeks leading up to the draft. And about seven days before he was acquired by the Cowboys, the young rookie called up his now defensive coordinator “just to talk.”
Still Has a Lot to Learn
But as coach Garrett said earlier, the rookie is raw. Among the areas where he needs improvement is his hand usage. Although he showcases a violent punch and strong long-arm move, his overall technique is rather rudimentary. He needs refinement in order to consistently disengage from blockers.
And he’s susceptible to being knocked down from the side while engaged. This tends to happen when the offensive line takes the initiative or when a second lineman is free and collides with Hill first rather than waiting to be attacked. Too many times, Hill is either unaware of the second blocker or has tunnel vision on the man in front of him.
Ultimately, deciding whether the Dallas Cowboys were justified in taking Trysten Hill at No. 58 a mere two weeks after the draft is a matter of perspective. From a draft grade standpoint, their move lacks value. But when looking at his selection through a lens that combines need, positional value, and fit within a system that places a premium on the two traits Hill possesses, the pick becomes more palatable.
In the end, the Cowboys reached for a raw prospect that may not have been available at pick No. 90. They did this because of his athletic traits and their belief that Marinelli can get the most out of him. And provided he effectively soaks up the lessons his coaches throw at him, the front office and staff could easily be proven right.
You can follow Allan on Twitter at @AllanUy22