Detroit Lions DT Sammie Lee Hill: Beating The Sophomore Slump

John Farrier@GriffWings UnitedCorrespondent IJuly 2, 2010

SEATTLE - NOVEMBER 08:  Sammie Hill #79 of the Detroit Lions stands on the field before the game against the Seattle Seahawks on November 8, 2009 at Qwest Field in Seattle, Washington. The Seahawks defeated the Lions 32-20. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Somewhere during the process of researching prospective players for selection in the NFL draft, the research has a way of revealing players to whom we gravitate for one reason or another. 

My research during the prelude to the 2009 NFL draft helped me discover a larger-than-life figure who had NFL-caliber defensive tackle size with enough athleticism to play “shut-down defensive end” for a small college in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.


The history of the former Stillman Institute is a fascinating read. 

From a small school steeped in roots with the Presbyterian Church comes a young man who Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham took under his wing to ensure the best possible transition for a homesick Sammie Lee.


The information on Sammie Lee Hill from his NFL Combine profile is an intriguing read.


Pick Analysis: At the Senior Bowl, Hill left everyone talking. He's big, strong and fast. When you take a player from a small school like Stillman, there's a learning curve. Hill needed a destination where he could develop, and that's a strong suit of new Lions coach Jim Schwartz. This is a Cortland Finnegan-type pick -- a player Schwartz helped to develop at Tennessee.


Hill is regarded by many to be the premier small college prospect at his position. The four-year starter lined up at left defensive end as a junior and senior, but with explosive burst penetrating the gaps and wide frame, many teams feel that he is better suited to play inside at tackle at the next level, his original college position. His ability to shut down the running game saw him produce 44.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage during his career, setting the school career record.


Hill is much more than your typical defensive lineman, though. He served as a tight end in goal-line blocking situations, where he scored on a 16-yard reception and also on a two-point conversion. He competed as an up-back and wedge buster on special teams, as the 330-pounder was seen rumbling with his first kickoff return as a senior. He also got to drop back in coverage as a giant middle linebacker, racing 38 yards into the end zone for a touchdown with an interception as a junior.


Sammie Lee Hill has the classic “Schwartz draft-pick trait” of athleticism.  They want players who are athletic, regardless of their size.  In Sammie Lee Hill, they found one of the most athletic and dynamic big men in college football.


As always the guys at NFLDraftScout do a great job providing the reader with excellent “deep dive” information.


For Lions fans, the following comparison could be bittersweet:


Compares To: SHAUN ROGERS, Cleveland -- Hill has the potential to be much more consistent than Rogers, but will just need time to adjust to NFL life from the low level of competition he played in. Hill flashes a burst to finish and shows effectiveness stopping the running game as a three-tech defender. He has a very strong anchor vs. the run and uses his hands well to cross over the offensive lineman's face to make the play. He generates excellent leverage to stack at the point of attack. He has the quick, strong and active hands to split double teams and his long arms allow him to consistently push the pocket.


“Big Baby Part Deux?”


Not so much.


I believe this was my first mock draft of the 2009 NFL draft class that included Hill. Those lads sure move up and down the draft board before it’s over, don’t they?


GoLionsWin January 26, 2009 at 9:15PM

Pick Rd/Ovrl Player Pos College Ht Wt 40
1 1 (1) Aaron Curry OLB Wake Forest 6'2" 246 4.62
2 1 (20) James Laurinaitis ILB Ohio State 6'2" 240 4.59
3 2 (33) Ron Brace NT Boston College 6'3" 326 5.32
4 3 (65) Kraig Urbik OG Wisconsin 6'5" 323 5.29
5 3 (82) Eric Wood OG/C Louisville 6'4" 304 5.16
6 5 (136) Joe Burnett CB/KR Central Florida 5'10" 185 4.48
7 6 (172) Sammie Lee Hill DT Stillman 6'4" 331 5.20
8 6 (190) Franz Joseph LB Florida Atlantic 6'2" 235 4.73
9 7 (211) Bradley Fletcher CB Iowa 6'1" 196 4.48
10 7 (comp) Brandon Hughes CB Oregon State 5'11" 177 4.49

Let's "prep the battlefield" to go to war in the trenches, people! Attention to fixing defensive front-seven and helping at guard can only be a positive step in a brighter direction.


In late February 2009, Sammie Lee Hill performed at the NFL Combine, and when all was said and done, he had showcased his athleticism in fine fashion.


In the months that followed the combine, Sammie Lee Hill’s draft stock climbed until his eventual selection by the Honolulu Blue and Silver in the 4th Round.


I recall reading in the Detroit News and Free Press that when Sammie Lee reported for his first training camp, he wasn’t exactly in shape.


Paradigm shift.


When your team is so “blessed” with talent on the defensive line that Grady “ Methuselah מְתוּשָׁלַח ” Jackson is your starter at defensive tackle (when healthy) and he is paired with a rookie Fourth Round pick from a small school competing in NCAA Division II football, you know there’s only room to get better.


Ironically, Methuselah means “man of the spear”.  He foreshadowed the coming of the “House of Spears!”  Welcome Ndamukong Suh!


Regardless of Sammie Lee Hill’s shortcomings as a rookie, his year of play under the Schwartz/Cunningham system will help him tremendously during his sophomore campaign.  The additions of outstanding defensive talent in RDE Kyle Vanden Bosch and DT Corey Williams will provide veteran leadership that was sorely lacking for Hill last year.


Hill played in 13 games last season, and started 12. He averaged two tackles per game on the season for a total of 26.  All in all, it’s the game repetitions that matter.  For a young man transitioning from D-II football to the NFL, I’d say he’s doing a good job.


Currently, Hill projects as a rotational player and backup for a retooled defensive line that will feature Ndamukong Suh and Corey Williams.  Should the Lions find themselves with injury problems, a healthy Hill can provide a strong presence without a drop off in quality of play.


Building the team.  Foundational players.  Trenchmen.  I love it.


Inasmuch as Coach Schwartz believes an NFL team should expect to get good starters out of their 3rd Round draft picks, when a draft is “deep,” or there is an overload of declared underclassmen, you can drive exceptional value in the later rounds, which is exactly what the Lions and their fans are finding in Hill.


The additions of Kyle Vanden Bosch, Corey Williams, and Ndamukong Suh to the 2010 Detroit Lions defensive line provides an instant, much-needed infusion of talent. The Lions appear to be in a much better position on the defensive line heading into the 2010 season than they did one season ago.


There is hope.


My hope during the 2009 NFL Draft was that the Lions begin to assemble foundational pieces for their abysmal defense.  The Lions accomplished exactly that with Second (Delmas), Third (Middle Line Badger, Levy), Fourth- (Sammie Lee Hill), and possibly Seventh Round (Zach “Pain Train” Follett) selections.


Let’s see what the HaMMeR had to say just days prior to the 2009 NFL Draft:


HaMMeR April 24, 2009 at 6:19PM

Pit - well, it's been another fun November through April, hasn't it?

At this point, I don't think it is inconceivable to see a Stafford - Pettigrew - Laurinaitis combo at the top of the draft . I'm pretty sure they'll trade down from #65 to some "desperate" club ;)

The chances of Maualuga falling to #20 is remote to me - I know your fondness for So Cal "talent" - no biggier ;) I don't think the Lions take Laurinaitis at #20 either - and if he's gone at #33, and Alex Mack is gone too, don't be surprised if Wood is the "surprise" pick at #33 - Wood has been in for a formal interview.

If that happens, I would expect them to look for their "thumper" MLB in the face of Jasper Brinkley at pick #82.

The trade down from #65 could yield a 4th round pick that nabs a guy like Sammie Lee Hill or something.

Well, as the years roll by and we play our "annual game", again, it has been fun - all the best my friend ;)



My theory in the 2009 NFL Draft was that the Lions had to come away with one of three players:  B.J. Raji, Ron Brace, or Sammie Lee Hill.  The trade-down atop the Third Round paved the road from Tuscaloosa to Detroit.


My hope during the 2010 NFL Draft was that the Lions make Ndamukong Suh the No.2 overall selection.  I also wanted the Lions to address the talent issue at the cornerback position.  Done and done.  (I was in the right church, but the wrong pew on the Third Rounder.)


The improvements made to the roster should afford good competition and provide the team with young depth.  A fresh Sammie Lee Hill could wreak havoc on unsuspecting quarterbacks, something I’d like to see early and often (think breaded veal Cutler).


While Hill’s final role with the 2010 Detroit Lions is yet to be finalized, of one thing you can be sure:  I’ll be cheering for Big Sammie to Lay the Smacketh Down Upon the “Philistines” in Chicago, Green Bay, and Minnesota!  Smite them and slew thine enemies!


If you’re like me, you’re looking forward to seeing Sammie Lee Hill take the field in the fall and smash Jay Cutler’s face mask like an aluminum can.  Hill is looking forward to recycling ;)


I’d bet Lions fans would give more than a dime refund too.


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