The Michigan Wolverines have touted some of the best statistical secondaries in the country over the last several seasons with the blitz heavy packages that Don Brown runs with his defense. There were lots of players in the secondary who were question marks in 2019-20 season who solidified themselves as starters going forward. At the same time, the cornerstones of that secondary are on their way out as both Josh Metellus and LaVert Hill have moved on to the next level. Can the players remaining in Ann Arbor make that next step?
Here is our Spring preview of the cornerback and safety positions for next season.
Who is gone?
As mentioned before Metellus and Hill are continuing their football careers in the NFL next season. Whether you were a fan of his or not, Metellus statistically had an impact on the field in 2019. He was third on the team in tackles (74), two interceptions, and five passes defended last year.
Meanwhile, LaVert Hill, who was touted as one of the top corners in the country by PFF in his collegiate career (specifically after the 2018 season), tied with the team lead for 3 interceptions in 2019. Hill also had nine passes defended, which led the team.
Success in the secondary will be paramount going forward for the Wolverines, and Michigan will miss the tackling ability of Metellus and the coverage skills that Hill showed in their tenure in Ann Arbor.
Thankfully, there is some youthful experience that the Wolverines can lean on going forward.
Senior Ambry Thomas will be the top guy at the corner position for Michigan in 2020. Thomas showed his toughness throughout last season as he played after being diagnosed with colitis, a chronic digestive disease, just weeks prior to kickoff of the season. Along with Hill, Thomas intercepted three passes last season, a team-high. He showed a lot of promise and a lot of speed in keeping up with some of the best wide receivers in the Big Ten Conference last year. If he can stay healthy and continue to progress, he should fill in nicely for Hill going forward.
Another returner was a newcomer and a surprisingly important player last season, Vincent Gray. Gray stepped into the 3rd corner spot in the depth chart and out-performed his projections in the 2020 season as a redshirt freshman. Coming into 2020, he could be have a huge role as Thomas’ No. 2 guy and will likely be called upon to cover some of the best receivers on opposing teams.
Next comes a pretty large drop off of (at least proven) talent at the corner position. Gemon Green is probably the third-stringer and he was largely a special teams player last season. Next is Sammy Faustin who also saw time pretty much exclusively on special teams. Following those two are five freshman: DJ Turner, George Johnson and Jalen Perry (redshirts), and true freshman Andre Seldon and Darion Green-Warren.
The cornerback position certainly errs with their youth and are without a doubt top-heavy, but they out-perforned expectations last season and will hope to again in 2020.
It seems like the safety position is going to be in a very similar boat with the corners. They two will have a senior at the helm in Brad Hawkins, a younger player with a ton of promise who is looking to prove himself in Daxton Hill, and a lot of unknown after that.
Brad Hawkins will be the senior leader at the position. He had 53 tackles last season playing both slot-corner and safety in the Michigan defense. He will likely fill the hole left by Metellus next season at the strong safety position.
It is likely that he will play alongside the highly-skilled and extremely fast Daxton Hill in 2020 as he will probably be the favorite to be the No. 1 coverage option at safety going forward. He was the highest ranked recruit the Wolverines had in the 2019 class and has been hyped up since day one in Ann Arbor. 2020 will be the year to see if he lives up to that potential.
After that is redshirt sophomore German Green who saw action in only one game last season, but was also named the scout team special teams player of the week several times over the course of last season.
Quinten Johnson is going to be a redshirt freshman coming in looking to make a name for himself. He has the ability to play both the safety and cornerback positions so we will see where the Wolverines have him lined up this Spring.
Then come true freshman R.J. Moten, Jordan Morant, and Makari Paige. Each of those three are in the top-26 at their position in the 2020 class with Morant coming in the top-10.
There is a lot of clutter towards the bottom of both the corner and safety positions going forward in Ann Arbor that could cause some issues in the future. For now, it appears that they each have a lot of talent towards the top with not much experienced depth coming behind that. There will likely be a bunch of shifting in the secondary and redefining of positions, but overall it is going to be one of the most interesting position groups to watch in the coming years with some stars in waiting. Time will tell if the Wolverines can continue to rebuild and replenish their secondary under Don Brown through the 2020 season.