In our Lottery Tickets series, we break down the lesser-known players who have a chance to make the Kansas City Chiefs’ Week 1 roster. Leading up to training camp, we’ll be profiling the intriguing undrafted free agents and reserve/future contract players who show the potential to stick in the NFL.
Why is is it called Lottery Tickets? The players we discuss are high-upside players that haven’t significantly affected the Chiefs bottom line — but their returns could be substantial.
In 2018, the Chiefs brought in a undrafted free agent rookie who captured the hearts of many fans during the preseason — including mine.
Patrick Mahomes— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) December 22, 2018
Patrick Mahomes II
Arrion Springs https://t.co/2vTFZXQzWd
Arrion Springs was an undersized (but smart) cornerback who opened some eyes when he lined up for some reps with the first team defense during training camp. The excitement was obviously short lived. Springs didn’t make it out of St. Joseph with a job in what would be one of the NFL’s worst secondaries.
You would think I’d be too hurt to be intrigued by another undersized (but smart) defensive back. But now that the Chiefs have able to snatch up Michigan’s Lavert Hill as an undrafted free agent, I am ready to be hurt again.
If Hill is to make the Chiefs’ 53 man roster, he’ll do so as a 21-year-old. While he is still young, that doesn’t mean his projection is as picturesque as it is for others. His upside is probably limited by his underwhelming athletic profile; at 5 feet 10 inches, he won’t be the biggest (or even the fastest) player on the field.
But this isn;t a death sentence, because there’s a lot to like about his game — including intangibles you see in undrafted free agents who do make it in the league.
Lavert Hill (bottom of screen) is not best fit to play outside, but Michigan asked him to play out there some. He took on the challenge - as he has done with everything asked of him on the football field. Hill has the competitive toughness that #LotteryTickets need to stick. pic.twitter.com/0OUnaB5rSs— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) June 5, 2020
After watching several games, it’s hard to not be impressed with Hill’s competitive toughness. While he was tasked with it at Michigan, he’s not going to play outside at the next level — but with the Wolverines, he acquitted himself nicely for his size.
Here against Iowa, he plays the ball nicely on an outside release vertical. A few plays later, he notched a turnover at the goal line.
Lavert Hill (bottom of screen) has questionable long speed for the next level, but this is a really nice play from him getting on top of the receiver and squeezing the sideline - cutting the receiver off from the football and coming down with the INT. pic.twitter.com/EAXYceDGur— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) June 5, 2020
You can see on this play that Hill doesn’t have great long speed — the receiver he’s up against doesn’t have it, either — but it’s a great rep.
He immediately has a feel for the vertical. He hauls up to get on top of the route and start squeezing the receiver to the sideline. He knows when he needs to get his head around — you’ll see more examples of this — and is able to cut off the receiver, not only getting his hands on the football, but making the catch.
Hill plays bigger than he is, relying on instincts, preparation and competitive toughness — a dynamic trio of mental traits that can help him mask his athletic deficiencies.
For a 5'10" corner you're not going to find many as competitive at the catch point as Lavert Hill (top of screen). He's instinctual and comfortable with his back turned to the QB. He reads receivers extremely well and times his jump and extension consistently well. pic.twitter.com/RMxn7cv0jv— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) June 5, 2020
In this draft class, I genuinely don’t know if I’ve seen a shorter cornerback who is as competitive at the catch; Hill has a good feel for challenging at the highest point.
Here, Hill plays it perfectly against a bigger receiver: Chase Claypool. Right at the outside release, he has his hands on Claypool. He knows where his help is. He knows he’s getting over the top — and has a good idea of when he can start looking back to find the football. He reads the receiver to put him in the best position to jump and extend at the right time to get his hand on another ball.
Some of his Shrine Bowl reps show these same qualities. Hill is just natural; he is comfortable and confident in his assignment — which allows him to play faster than his 40 time.
Lavert Hill (bottom of screen) with a quick ID of the screen to make a play behind the line of scrimmage. pic.twitter.com/VXjyAQQk0T— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) June 5, 2020
On this rep, Hill quickly identifies the play; you can see him break on it when he reads the screen. We see that he is not a passive football player; he’s willing to tackle. He’s not going to be a force — but he is not going to back down from any play, either. While he won’t often deliver a blow, he will try to tackle low — and on this rep, it allows him to make a nice play behind the line of scrimmage.
Hlll’s change-of-direction skills are good — it’s his best athletic trait — and it shows in coverage with transitions that are largely clean and crisp. At the next level — where he’d be likely to play in the slot — that will help him.
The bottom line
If you’re not going to be the most athletic or physically imposing player on the field, you’re going to have to play with high football character — and everything about Hill’s game screams that. He’s quick to process what he sees — and that comes from instincts and film study. Whatever the size or speed of the receiver lined up across him, you’re going to get Hill’s best. He’s a highly competitive player — and still very young.
With the Chiefs, Hill has a chance to be a contributor on special teams and compete for a role as the slot cornerback in Steve Spagnuolo’s sub-packages. There are questions about whether he will be able to turn and run with receivers at this level, but if he can answer those questions — and allow his instincts to take over — it will lead him to an NFL career.
Whether it’s from earning a spot on the active roster or on the practice squad, I hope the Chiefs can find a way to keep him. I’d like to see his development take place in Kansas City.