Dallas Cowboys: Is Trysten Hill the odd man out this year?

Trysten Hill #97 of the Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)
Trysten Hill #97 of the Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images) /

In the 2019 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys’ first selection was DT Trysten Hill from the University of Central Florida. Little did we know at the time, not only would it be the last year of the Jason Garrett era, but also the last year of the Cowboys defense.

The Hill selection often gets scrutinized because the Cowboys made it very clear that they wanted either a safety that could turn the ball over or an interior defensive lineman that could help them fix their run defense. The Hill pick accomplished neither (Recency bias was in full effect due to the recent playoff loss to the Los Angeles Rams).

Trysten Hill may not have a roster spot on the Dallas Cowboys this year

In hindsight, the pick should have received much greater criticism, because even with Hill’s upside, it didn’t really fix any problems. It was a “coach’s pick” at a time when there was already writing on the wall that the coaching staff likely wouldn’t return the following season.

In Rod Marinelli’s 4-3 defense, the 3-technique tackle holds a lot of value because the quickest way to generate pressure is by shooting the A or B gaps. The Cowboys were successful in this department in the 2018 season, so naturally, there was a desire to copy the recipe for success from the previous season.

Two years later and the selection has aged like rotten eggs. Hill had an incredibly underwhelming rookie season and got injured five games into his sophomore season; it is hard to say his sophomore season was that much better. He was considered one of the worst defenders on the team and he didn’t generate enough pressure as a starting pass rusher to feel confident in his projection moving forward.

To make matters worse, players like Juan Thornhill, Taylor Rapp, DK Metcalf, Terry McLaurin, and Chase Winovich were all drafted within the following ten picks after Hill. The pick was a reach then; hardly anyone is doubting that now.

As we look onward to the Dan Quinn era of the Dallas Cowboys defense, Hill is a scheme fit; well kind of? An under tackle carries great importance as a pass rusher but does so from a shade position compared to the fronts coach Marinelli used to run. The shade positions offer a bit of flexibility when running fire zone blitzes and adjusting to slide protections. As a run defender, the responsibilities are largely the same while playing with greater area in the front four.

The diversity that Quinn brings to his pass-rushing should make things more exciting for good athletes like Hill, first-round pick Micah Parsons, third-round pick Osa Odighizuwa, Randy Gregory, and Neville Gallimore to a degree. But for someone who didn’t have great production in college and hasn’t had much production since he’s been in the league, how much playtime does Hill receive?

Last season Hill started week one. If you read any of my work in August, I actually brought up a path for Trysten Hill to start at the under tackle position. This was because an unfortunate non-contact injury caused Gerald McCoy to miss the season and because of Tyrone Crawford’s size and waning athletic ability. To begin the season, the Cowboys were two-gapping more frequently and Hill had better size and upfield burst. Crawford garnered a significant snap count later on because injuries started to pile up.

His instincts in run support were adequate at best and his continued struggle to maintain a good pad level while leveraging gaps allowed interior offensive linemen to drive him away from the ball a lot easier than they should have. There is no reason someone with that power and play strength should be so unimpactful in run support.

As a pass rusher, he is still developing his pass rush plans. He displays the power to work club-rips and bullrushes and he has the speed, burst, and bend to win with speed and counter moves. Unfortunately, the consistency isn’t there yet. Better usage of hands and pad level would directly result in greater production but he’s really only played meaningful snaps in five career games so how much can we expect to improve this season?

Recognizing where Hill is in his development in relation to the direction of the team, it is possible the timelines don’t mesh. When the Cowboys drafted Hill, it was pretty clear the pick was to provide valuable depth in the future. The future has arrived and Hill isn’t where he should be. The team drafted Osa Odighizuwa and Chauncey Gholston; both can line up inside and are currently better defenders in run support. You could make the case Odighizuwa currently is the better pass rusher.

The team is clearly committed to stopping the run better than the abomination of last season. When pass-rushing, it seems DC Dan Quinn favors defenders with good arm length; something Hill is lacking to his counterparts. Also, Quinn’s defenses generally require good edge rushers to finish the job of sacking the quarterback. The interior guys don’t usually generate that type of production. (In Grady Jarret’s best season, he recorded 7.5 sacks.)

Next. Dallas Cowboys: Did the defensive line improve enough?. dark

Trysten Hill, in potential, could be one of the best interior defensive lineman to ever wear the Star but with an initial lack in work ethic and several schematic and personnel changes later, he has been reduced to the odd man out in an uncomfortably young interior defensive line room. It’s unfortunate that he might be wasted potential, but sometimes that is the harsh reality of the business…

  • Published on 05/08/2021 at 12:22 PM
  • Last updated at 05/08/2021 at 12:22 PM