Bengals may’ve already found their new cornerback without signing or drafting anyone

The longer NFL free agency wore on, the Cincinnati Bengals not signing a cornerback became increasingly stranger.

Bengals may’ve already found their new cornerback without signing or drafting anyone

Cincinnati watched Chidobe Awuzie, a two-year starter who became the first off the bench in 2023, leave to become a starter again for the Tennessee Titans. A replacement on the depth chart surprisingly wasn’t signed after the fact. Only DJ Ivey, Jalen Davis, and Allan George remain on the roster as reserves behind their three starters. That’s a second-year player coming off a major injury, a career backup, and a practice squad player.

The depth at such an important position is not in a good place, but Dax Hill may be able to change that. It might be time to start including him with the group.

Hill isn’t brand new to the position as he was a slot cornerback for Michigan in college. The Bengals drafted him to play safety and eventually replace one of Jessie Bates III or Vonn Bell a year later. Hill’s first year back deep had its moments, but the Bengals saw enough of his troubles to launch a soft reset at the position in free agency.

New faces to Hill’s position means one of two things. He’s either a backup at a jam-packed position group, or a backup at a much weaker position group. One of these makes more sense than the other.

Dax Hill is a cornerback until further notice

It wasn’t just the fact that the Bengals signed two safeties, it was the fact that both safeties are better than Hill right now.

Geno Stone and Vonn Bell each come into Cincinnati with either the expectation to start, the capability to start, or both. Stone was signed to play at $7 million per year through 2025, and while Bell is making veteran minimum, he’s a proven starter in Lou Anarumou’s defense.

Add in second-year player Jordan Battle, who played with a lot more consistency than Hill as a starter last year, and that’s three quality options the Bengals are more comfortable playing than Hill.

Hill is a former first round pick who’s good at playing football. He’s not going to be a reserve buried on the depth chart when he can contribute at another position. He can see the field sooner at cornerback, and that’s where he’s played his best football in recent years.

There is a difference, however, between playing on the boundary and in the slot. Hill built an impressive resume at Michigan for lining up closer to the box. 906 of his 1,594 snaps came in the slot. Mirroring routes against slot receivers and tight ends with safety help over the top is a unique skillset that’s not always translatable against the burners who play further away from the formation.

If Hill becomes the first corner off the bench, playing on the outside will be a hurdle he’ll have to overcome. He’d fit in naturally at Mike Hilton’s spot in the slot, but the numbers are plain and simple. There are two outside corners and just one slot defender. If an injury occurs, the odds point to the outside being affected.

Of course, Hill doesn’t have to see the field just because of injuries. Tre Flowers was listed as a cornerback during his two years in Cincinnati, and his main role was to come in on subpackages to play man coverage against tight ends. Hill has already taken reps in this role, and can do so more often now that he isn’t starting at safety.

Why Dax Hill can successfully to transition to cornerback

Luckily for the Bengals, Hill already has the athleticism to play anywhere. He ran a 4.38 40-yard dash with a 6.57 3-cone drill. Speed and flexibility are essential to playing arguably the hardest position on the field.

Athleticism isn’t the concern with Hill. All of his speed did him no good at safety when he was charged with allowing explosive plays in coverage. The mental side of the position was the main cause for his struggles.

Cornerback is a little more straightforward in comparison. The communication aspect isn’t as severe, and the assignments are simpler in the post-snap phase. He’s used to lining up on the line of scrimmage with a receiver in his face. That familiarity combined with fewer mental tasks on a per play basis should benefit him in making the transition.

It would be so much simpler if Hill was just Hilton’s backup, awaiting his turn to become the starter in 2025 and beyond. But the way the Bengals have addressed, or lack thereof, the cornerback room points to Hill being expected to do more than play his natural position again. He certainly sounds ready for the unexpected.

“Whatever happened, I can’t control that. I’m just going to put my best foot forward,” Hill said of entering his third season. “I’m not really stressing out about what’s to come. I’ve been through so much the first two years, it’s nothing that I’m not used to. We’ll see how things go, but everything’s kind of just up in the air, we’ll see how things go and just play it from there.

“Whatever they ask of me, whatever that is, I’m going do it. But I mean, whatever the position that I’ll be in, I’m going to give it my all.”

The Bengals will need nothing less from Hill to come out as winners with their plan.

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