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Column: Hill back under the radar

Most of the current NFL mock drafts have six or seven defensive tackles going off the board in the first round. Most have Utah's Star Lotulelei, Philly native and Florida Gator Sharrif Floyd, Missouri's Sheldon Richardson, Ohio State's Johnathan Hankins and Purdue's Kawaan Short in that group.

Hill had 29 more tackles over his final two seasons than former teammate Devon Still.

No one mentions Jordan Hill, at least not until you get to the third or fourth round.

It isn't the first time the big Steelton native, a three-star recruit according to Scout and a two-star recruit according to Rivals four years ago, has been underrated and underestimated, and it probably won't be the last.

But NFL executives would do well to keep an eye on Hill not only this week during the combine in Indianapolis but also during the last weekend in April, or they might end up wishing they had later.

Hill's rating on the NFL.com grading scale is a 64.6, which puts him in the upper end of the category labeled "draftable player" (as opposed to teammates Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti who, with ratings of just above 70, are "eventual starters").

You wonder if the people who graded Hill considered the 123 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks he tallied during the last two seasons, or the ridiculous interception he made against Virginia this past fall, or that he played in all but the first five games of his four-year career, battling his way through injuries that robbed him of his explosion and agility.

Or if they, and the mock draft guys, and potentially even the coaches and GMs that will evaluate him this week, simply can't get past the thought that Hill lacks, according to one such ranking, "ideal NFL measurables."

Here's the thing: Hill was listed at 6-foot-1, 292 pounds in his final season at Penn State which, like a number of programs, has been known to exaggerate heights from time to time. He dropped about 10 pounds in the offseason so that he would have the stamina to be on the field for more plays, and he did just that. NFL.com lists him at 6-1, 298.

NFL teams are very unlikely, even if they're blown away by Hill's interviews and he turns in some impressive numbers in Indianapolis or at Penn State's Pro Day, to spend first- or even second-round money on a defensive tackle of those dimensions, not when there are monsters like Lotulelei (6-4, 320), Short (6-3, 310) or Hankins (6-3, 315) there to be had.

Overlooking Hill because of his size, though, would be a mistake. Especially when you consider the nature of both his game and the nature of interior defensive lines in the pro game today.

Think of all the highlight-reel, jaw-dropping plays Hill made throughout the course of his final season at Penn State. Now think of how dominant he was down the stretch of the season finale against Wisconsin, when he had seven of his 12 tackles in the fourth quarter or overtime.

Now imagine that same player -- a little bigger, mind you, and going against professional offensive linemen, of course -- giving you 25 snaps a game instead of 40 or 50.

Even with up-tempo offenses gaining more and more traction around the league, defensive coaches love to freely rotate the big bodies up front. Having four or five really good defensive linemen isn't going to get you through a season anymore; you need to be two-deep at every spot, not just to guard against injuries to the starters but to keep those starters rested so that they're still able to shed blockers and apply pressure in the fourth quarter, when the majority of NFL games are decided.

Hill is unlikely to see nearly the snaps in the pros as he did during his senior campaign at Penn State whether he winds up as a starter or not, and that plays to his strengths. Even if he gets up to 310 or so, he's not going to be a guy that simply leans on an offensive lineman and drives him back late in the game. His game is quickness and technique.

Hill won't go off the board in Round 1, and probably not Round 2, either. But the team that decides to take him in Round 3 or 4 is going to get a grounded, hard-working player who, when healthy, was as good as any lineman in the conference for both of the last two seasons. And the team that decides to wait on him or go with another prospect might wind up wishing it had considered more than "measurables."

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