It was a decent surprise given how Hilliard played down the stretch for the Buckeyes, and given how much teams like taking former Buckeye defenders. He made big plays throughout the postseason, and earned a Senior Bowl invite. He also projects as a useful special teams player, even if he doesn’t become a factor defensively at the next level.
At least one team valued him pretty highly. The San Francisco 49ers signed Hilliard as an undrafted free agent, with a five-digit signing bonus according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero.
If he cracks the roster, he’d join a very high profile former Buckeyes teammate. Defensive end Nick Bosa is one of the team’s standouts on that side of the ball.
The #49ers are signing former Ohio State LB Justin Hilliard to a hefty rookie free-agent deal that includes a $30,000 signing bonus and $95,000 base salary guarantee, per source.
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) May 2, 2021
Hilliard, who missed a number of games due to injury throughout his career, played in six for Ohio State this season. He posted a career high 33 tackles, including five tackles for loss, and picked up a big interception in the Big Ten Championship Game against Northwestern. He also recovered three fumbles, and forced another in 2020.
The former five-star recruit is a Cincinnati native. Hopefully he’ll take the momentum from late in his Ohio State career into the summer.
He joins an impressive NFL Draft class, headlined by No. 3 overall pick Trey Lance, quarterback out of North Dakota State, and his Ohio State teammate Trey Sermon, the running back who exploded in the games against Northwestern and Clemson.