|Hill has flashed considerable upside at corner. Reinhold Maday: USA Today Sports|
Holiday cheer may be nice, but the Patriots care more about taking any opportunity they can to get better. That mentality was on display once again today, as they didn't let it being Christmas day keep them from releasing tight end Asante Cleveland.
Cleveland was released to create a roster spot, which was filled by their claiming of cornerback Troy Hill off of waivers. An undrafted rookie, Hill appeared in three games for the Bengals, playing a total of 23 snaps on defense (he also chipped in with three special teams tackles). He was waived by the Bengals yesterday to make room for veteran Chris Lewis-Harris on the active roster.
An Oregon product, Hill was regarded as one of the better corners in college football (earning second team All Pac 12 honors as a senior), but went undrafted due to a lack of prototypical size combined with off-the-field concerns. Hill is listed at 5'11" and 182 pounds and had two concerning incidents during the 2013 season: a one game suspension for an unidentified violation of team rules and his suspension for the Ducks bowl game due to his arrest during a domestic incident in which he punched through a wall during an argument with his girlfriend. Hill was charged with a misdemeanor menacing charge, underwent anger management counseling, and still has a year left on his probation stemming from the incident.
Hill's release caught my attention yesterday, as his game film from 2014 showed legitimate NFL talent. He was a darling of ProFootballFocus during their draft coverage last spring, landing on their list of the draft's top five cornerback prospects. As the linked article notes, Hill held opposing quarterbacks to a stingy 45.3% completion percentage as a senior, his first as a full-time starter. He also led the Pac 12 in passes defensed with 18, as he got tested often playing opposite superstar teammate Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.
The upside of adding a prospect with his upside was more than enough to entice the Pats to let go of Cleveland, a second-year blocking tight end who had spent the past four games on the active roster. If he makes it through waivers unclaimed, Cleveland will likely return to the practice squad, where he spent most of the season and won multiple "practice player of the week" awards. Of course, the Bengals will attest that's never a guarantee, as they were likely hoping to sneak Hill back onto their practice squad themselves.