What If Rashod Hill Is Viable?

Photo Credit: Tim Fuller (USA TODAY Sports)

When you’re a Minnesota Vikings fan, you get to participate in the annual spring tradition of talking yourself into middling-to-bad offensive linemen. They struck out on some interior offensive line names they were after, and now the draft is looming. Edge rusher might be the choice in the first round, leaving a giant vacancy in Riley Reiff‘s place. If the Vikings played tomorrow, Rashod Hill would likely start.

Earlier in the season, Matthew Coller penned a feature on Hill, who almost started last year. As Reiff considered his options regarding an August pay-cut, the Vikings had Hill waiting in the wings. Reiff chose to stay in Minnesota, and Hill saw limited action in his fifth NFL season. That limited action may have displayed some of the improvements that Coller highlighted in his piece.

Hill is known as a solid backup tackle, but not one you want starting. In 2018, he started eight games before being overtaken by Brian O’Neill after their loss to the New Orleans Saints. That stretch wasn’t amazing, giving up 21 pressures on “true pass sets” (i.e., standard drop-back situations) before his benching. For context, T.J. Clemmings gave up 25 pressures in the first eight games of his infamous 2016 campaign.

But it’s been three years since that stretch, and it mostly informs our current opinions. But what if he’s gotten better? As fans, we can’t really know one way or another. Even the Vikings have limited information to go off of. Obviously, if Hill has improved to starting quality, it would be a massive boon. But if he were simply a viable low-end starter, would it open up any options that would otherwise be unavailable?

The options available to the Vikings are more open than they usually are three weeks before the draft. They could draft a tackle like Rashawn Slater or trade up for Penei Sewell. They could bring in a proven free agent like Alejandro Villanueva or Russell Okung. Those options exist with or without Hill.

If Hill isn’t a viable part-time starter, the idea of camp competition is not very enticing. Two backups competing in training camp do not manufacture a starter, as the Vikings have learned so often. But if Hill works as a worst-case scenario, the Vikings could bring in a high-ceiling, low-floor offensive tackle to compete with him. If that player works out, great. In the event he doesn’t, Hill is the fallback. A fallback is a step above a career backup, so we have to trust that Hill has improved a little.

We’ll get back to Hill. For now, assuming he has improved, who would those options be? The Vikings have been linked to Eric Fisher, for one. Fisher is coming off of an Achilles injury that will jeopardize his Week 1 availability. A whole season of Hill is a lot to ask, but what about just a few games while one of the top tackles in the league gets up to speed?

The Vikings could challenge the injury bug in the draft too. Someone like Stanford’s Walker Little, who lost his final college season to an ACL injury, becomes a more acceptable risk if Hill can provide a backstop. Or someone like James Hudson out of Cincinnati who needs time to develop. Hill can tide them over in the meantime.

So is Hill even good enough to justify those strategies? In 2018, he wasn’t. The Vikings’ line struggled mightily during the first half of their 8-7-1 2018 campaign, and Hill was a big part of that. Having to wait through that for O’Neill to come along may have been the difference between the playoffs and middling futility for that team.

Here are some lowlights from that stretch:

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There are many technical issues in that cutup, but soft hands are the ones that stick out to me most. When his hands go out, it’s easy for players like Chandler Jones and Brandon Graham to swat them away or bull rush through them. He also didn’t get a lot of depth on his kick-steps. That means edge rushers were getting upfield faster than he did, and his only option was a desperation lunge.

Last year Hill played about half of the Week 14 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Much of that was as a sixth lineman on heavy sets, but he did replace O’Neill for a brief spell while he was injured. That went much better; here’s a cutup:

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In particular, his footwork is much cleaner. Tackles need to both move upfield while also keeping their legs under them since edge rushers can attack them at any time. In the first sack, Hill picks up his feet way too much and doesn’t have a strong base when Brandon Graham engages. In the second, his base is as stout as can be when Shaq Barrett engages, and his length can be leveraged to its full potential.

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That said, it’s probably unwise for the Vikings to hang their hat on this. If they do, and Hill reverts to old habits, it could mean even further retrogression from an already ailing unit. It’s still probably better to shell out for someone like Villanueva or bite the bullet and address the offensive line in the first round again. Even better, they could sign a guard like Lane Taylor or Trai Turner and kick Ezra Cleveland to the outside where he belongs.

If those ideas fall through, and the Vikings end up relying on Hill temporarily at tackle, there is a chance that he’s a better player than he was in 2018. The sample of Hill last year was small, so we can only be so excited about a possible improvement. But if his footwork really is that much cleaner, the Vikings’ patient investment in him may pay off. Even if he doesn’t blossom into a full-time starter, he could justify a risk in someone like Fisher that outputs an even greater reward.

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