meet the cubs: sammie lee hill

>> 5.07.2009

Easily the most interesting prospect the Lions drafted, the selection of Stillman DT Sammie Lee Hill sent Lions fans into a Tweeting frenzy: Who was this guy?  A DT?  Sweet!  But, from a DII school?  Along with everyone else, I started scouring the Internet for information.  He's 270?  290?  300?  320?  330?  I saw all of those weights, and more, listed for him at various websites, in those first few minutes after the selection.  It seemed like there was practically no real information on this cat . . . was he a colossal reach, or a brilliant off-the-radar pickup?

With a little more Google-fu, I started stumbling upon article after article calling the 6'-4", 328-pound Hill one of the best of the small-school prospects.  Website after website saying he's a raw talent quickly moving up the draft boards.  An interview where, in between "yes, sir"s and "no, sir"s, he tells the story of a time when he helped save a man from a burning building.  And in all of them, I saw one word over and over and over: "raw".

Not heavily recruited out of tiny West Blocton, Alabama, Hill went to the best school that offered him a full ride scholarship: tiny Stillman College.  In order to leverage his outstanding size and athleticism, Hill was actually played on the outside, at DE.  This prevented opponents from double-teaming him--or even running the ball toward his side of the field.  As he told the Tuscaloosa News:

"I learned a little bit at Stillman, but I was just bigger than everyone else," he said. "It was just a man amongst boys. They didn't really know how to teach me. I didn't get a lot of teaching. I just went out there and played how I know how to play."

In both his junior and senior years, he was named first-team All-SAIC--and that senior year, led the SAIC in sacks and tackles for loss.  He was invited to the East-West Shrine Game--which could have really spotlighted his ability--but he tweaked a hamstring, preventing him from really showing his stuff.  Still, it got him on the radar.  When he was allowed to work out at Alabama's Pro Day, Lions DL coach Bob Karmelowicz got the chance to personally put him through drills.  This allowed the Lions to avoid bringing him in for a private workout, thereby keeping their interest in him quiet.  When the Lions moved back out of the first pick in the third round, they added the 15th pick in the fourth--the perfect place to grab a risk/reward pick like Hill, who many sites had graded as a third-round selection.

Many fans are already pencilling in Hill as a starter, as if Grady Jackson is the only other defensive tackle on the roster.  The thing to remember is that one word: RAW.  Sammie Hill is a naturally big and athletic man, but that's it.  He's not an NFL defensive tackle; he's not even really a DI defensive tackle.  He's essentially a blank slate in terms of technique; far closer to Ikaika Alama-Francis than B. J. Raji.  While it's true that Hill's a rare physical specimen, "Five-O" is, too.  Whether that raw potential is ever forged into the real impact player Sammie Hill could become depends equally upon Hill and the Lions' defensive staff.

The outlook for now is that Hill will get a chance, like everyone else on the roster, to prove he's got it.  Then, he'll likely serve as Jackson's understudy while Darby and Fluellen rotate at the three-technique spot.  I imagine we'll see more of Hill on a rotational basis late in the year, as the losses start mounting and Jackson starts to wear down.  2010 is where we'll really start to see Hill either command some playing time--or not.


David M,  May 7, 2009 at 6:29 PM  

I like the choice of Hill, but I would have rather taken Terrance Taylor. He wont generate much pass rush, but he is more than adequate at stuffing the run, and he is in good physical shape. The project players we've drafted just dont seem to pan out too often. However, there is no denying Hill's massive upside. Its just that the staff needs to have realistic expectations for such a raw player. I know schwartz is great at this type of thing (developing young talent), but Hill has a long ways to go from becoming a great player.


Ty,  May 7, 2009 at 11:53 PM  

I couldn't find the quote, but I'm pretty sure Schwartz said something about Hill needing "maybe a couple of years". There's no question Hill needs time--but we're talking about a coach who developed Cortland Finnegan from a seventh-rounder into one of the best shutdown corners in the world.

Dave Birkett wrote a wonderful article comparing Hill to Leon Lett; if Hill becomes half the player the Big Cat was, this will have been a home run.


Mark,  May 8, 2009 at 8:59 AM  

Speaking of Ikaika Alama-Francis, this is the year that "Five-O" should make his mark. He's had a couple of years now to develop. He had one or two decent games last year. If he's ever going to be ready, it's going to show this year. I hope he makes that next step.

I'm looking forward to watching him.

Ty,  May 8, 2009 at 11:20 AM  


Absolutely; if it's ever going to happen, it should happen this year. As a 290-pound DE, he should have every opportunity to prove himself in this system . . . if it "clicks" for him, he could make the Kevin Carter signing unnecessary.


David M,  May 8, 2009 at 12:25 PM  

Yeah Ty,
Im glad you mentioned that Birkett article because I read that one. I just forgot about it :)

Good point on finnegan too.

Still wish we also had T. Taylor. Bill Polian, when talking with the media said Taylor comes from a wrestling background, which is extremely valuable for DT's because it gives them great balance and they have great hand usage.

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