Seahawks LB Leroy Hill (ESPN.com)
Editor's Note, by Brian Galliford: This post originally aired on February 6, 2009. Now that the Seattle Seahawks have removed the franchise tag from OLB Leroy Hill, the 26-year-old is now an unrestricted free agent. Bills COO/GM alluded to the fact that the team would investigate Hill after the NFL Draft; this is a refresher for those who've been here for a while, and a re-post for the newer Rumblers. End Note
During the process of identifying the Buffalo Bills' biggest positional needs, the Buffalo Rumblings community nearly unanimously listed a pass-rushing defensive end as the one spot where the Bills most desperately needed an upgrade. Tight end, center and outside linebacker closely followed. We have already begun the process of profiling potential Bills free agents; for reference now and in the future, all of these profiles will be available at this link.
With the NFL's free agent signing period set to begin less than one month from today (midnight on February 27), we here at Rumblings are now starting the process of profiling several top-notch free agents that the community has identified as potentially worthy of donning the red, white and blue in 2009. Even after signing LB Kawika Mitchell as an unrestricted free agent last off-season, the Bills still have a need for an athletic playmaker at outside linebacker (especially since Angelo Crowell's return is unlikely). Though he was recently charged with marijuana possession (some might say he pulled a Michael Phelps), Seattle's Leroy Hill is still one of the premiere free agent talents available at any position. He has struggled with injuries and some limitations to his game early in his career, but as we're about to hear, he more than makes up for his (small amount of) deficiencies.
Age 26 at start of 2009 season
6'1", 238 pounds
4-year NFL veteran out of Clemson
With LB Angelo Crowell an unrestricted free agent and likely on his way out of Buffalo (despite his recent public comments), the Bills will once again be searching for an outside linebacker to play in front of the often-overmatched Keith Ellison. With several viable options available at outside linebacker this year, Leroy Hill could be one of the first players, let alone linebackers to switch teams. Playing alongside Lofa Tatupu and Julian Peterson in Seattle, Hill is Seattle's most unheralded linebacker for obvious reasons. Still, he's enjoyed a productive career, and he's a very good player in his own right. Seattle is facing serious issues with their salary cap this off-season, so it's expected that that issue combined with the contract Hill is likely to draw will dictate that Hill signs elsewhere within the next month or so.
I'm no authority on the Seahawks, but our good friend John Morgan of Field Gulls most certainly is. SB Nation's Seahawks blogger is one of the better football minds at the network when it comes to X's and O's, and he kindly shared some very interesting takes on Hill recently.
On Hill's most valuable asset
"Leroy Hill is excellent at what he does. His one superstar, otherworldly, stands-out among-the-standouts skill is picking through traffic and flying downhill to the ball carrier. Simple as that sounds, it enables vital abilities. Run stopping: check. Blowing up the screen: check. Blitzing: check."
On Hill's blitzing ability
"Seattle underused him as a blitzer, but he could consistently contribute 5-10 sacks. He’s very quick and agile and though not indestructible as a tackler, punishing."
On Hill's upcoming free agency
"He won’t turn 27 until week two and as a free agent hits the sweet spot where age, ability and value meet. He’s very good, but receives sub-superstar recognition and will receive a sub-superstar contract: Something less than Lance Briggs but more than Cato June." (Ed. note: Briggs signed for 6 years/$36 million/$13 million guaranteed; June signed for 3 years/$12 million/$2 million bonus plus contract escalators.)
More on Hill's on-field skills, including coverage skills
"What Hill doesn’t do is cover like Briggs and June. He’s sloppy in a zone and lost in man. He won’t consistently fight off blockers either, but that’s an oft-mentioned and even more often overvalued quality. Few linebackers effectively fight off hulking offensive linemen and those that do don’t necessarily do much else. Accept his limitations as a pass defender—Seattle did its darndest to covert him into a cover linebacker and though he flashed at times in 2007, he looked to have given back his gains and then some in 2008—and his yearly rash of injuries and you have a top twenty linebacker entering his prime."
Does Hill "Fit the Bill"?
Hill has been a popular name amongst Bills fans searching for potential replacements for Crowell. Based on Morgan's outstanding scouting report, Hill may not be the perfect fit for Buffalo's defense that many have made him out to be. Whether we like it or not, coverage skills need to play a part in the acquisition of a new player, and Hill has the sounds of Kawika Mitchell about him in that department - possibly solid, but certainly not great. However, Hill's skills against the run and on the blitz more than make up for his passing game shortcomings, and any player that improves our pass rush is a worthwhile signing in my book. Of particular (delightful) interest to me was the fact that Hill does well against the screen; the Bills have been terrible defending that particular play for a number of years now. That's the icing on the cake for me.
Any thoughts on Hill that you'd like to add? Take a gander at his stat line below and let's talk some about Leroy Hill this afternoon. Many thanks to John Morgan for the valuable insight!