There are many uncertainties surrounding college football right now. The 2020 season is still in jeopardy, and even if a season does occur it will do so likely in empty stadiums with a conference-only schedule. Still, it is never too early to take a look at the Michigan depth chart and the players slated to contribute whenever football does resume. Join us as we comb through the roster and answer key questions heading into this fall.
Brad Hawkins, true SR
247 Composite Ranking: 3 stars (WR 66, Overall 425)
2019 Stats: 53 tackles, 1 PD
Sometimes a quiet game is the best type of game a player can offer. Brad Hawkins is far from the flashiest Michigan defender, but he goes out and does his job each week as expected. He is never one of the first names out of anyone’s mouth when talking about defensive stars, but his Pro Football Focus first-team Big Ten selection last season speaks for itself.
Hawkins was decent as a sophomore, but gave up a couple rough plays that stuck in fans’ minds. While coaches talked him up ahead of 2019, many were hoping that his snaps would go to elite freshman Daxton Hill instead. While the phenom was able to find some playing time, Hawkins refused to let go of the starting role, proving too valuable to replace.
What is the ceiling for Hawkins and can he get there in 2020?
The 2019 stat line for Hawkins tells a good story about how the Wolverines like to use him. As the strong safety, his job features a little coverage, but mostly revolves around attacking downhill into space. His tasks are not dissimilar to those of the Viper, but he is used less as a blitzer and more as a player that can track the play and explode towards the ball.
Hawkins was listed as a wide receiver as a recruit, meaning he can work in coverage. He has good hands and ball skills (ignore that one weird Notre Dame incident) and has pretty good ability in man coverage. Michigan is looking for its strong safety to prevent tight ends from getting the ball and limit opposing ball carriers getting into space. Hawkins has shown the ability to do both at a consistently high level.
When it comes to being flashy, that should be taken care of by Hill, who is likely to start in the free safety role as a sophomore. The two safeties have differing responsibilities and together should provide a strong unit at the back of the defense. I think Hawkins works best as a run defender, but part of how he is used will depend on how mature Hill looks. It is possible the role changes over the course of the season as the latter becomes more comfortable.
There were not a ton of rumors regarding Hawkins exploring the NFL last offseason, but if he puts up an encore performance in 2020 he has a decent shot at getting drafted. His stable play is a big boost for this defense, and he should be able to pick up right where Josh Metellus left off. It can be easy to take a strong safety for granted, but Hawkins is absolutely a vital piece of the defense. Both through stopping the run and preventing catches over the middle, he is a complete player and a cornerstone of the secondary.