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.
Daxton Hill, true SO
247 Composite Ranking: 5 stars (S 1, Overall 14)
2019 Stats: 36 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1 INT, 3 PD, 2 FR
It is more than reasonable to expect five-star prospects to start from day one, but just because Daxton Hill did not notch his first start until November, it does not mean his first year in Ann Arbor went to waste. The dynamic talent joined a somewhat stable Michigan secondary and was not necessarily needed from the very beginning, and his playing time probably speaks more to the situation than his readiness.
Hill still saw action in every game, though, and he eventually got to the point where the coaches had no choice but to put him on the field. While his stat line was modest, it does show that he was involved all over the defense, and he made it onto the Pro Football Focus All-Big Ten third team as a corner, showing that his impact was not immaterial. The training wheels are off heading into 2020. It is time for him to become the playmaker everyone projects him to be.
How good can Hill be in his first year as a starter?
As his recruiting ranking suggests, Hill is an absolute terror on defense. He has lightning speed and top-tier ratings in just about every SPARQ area. In terms of athleticism, there have been few at his level in recent years at Michigan; Jabrill Peppers is the obvious comparison, but Hill is longer and faster. The expectations are super high because this is a player that does not come every recruiting class.
Hill has immense range and can stick with anyone. His burst is explosive and his length allows him to contest just about any pass. He also closes down ball carriers very quickly, which makes him a violent weapon as a free safety. He can move all over the field and play anything from man coverage to center field to in the box. With the number of looks Don Brown likes to throw at opposing offenses, Hill is the ultimate chess piece.
Last season he was able to demonstrate a bit of this versatility. He picked up a first down on a fake punt reception, drilled an unsuspecting punt returner on the coverage team, recovered a couple fumbles against Notre Dame, notched an interception in his first career start, and finished the year with starts against both Ohio State and Alabama. Hill seems to have a knack for finding the ball, which is exactly what a free safety should do. His turnover numbers could be pretty impressive with a full year of starts.
Not every elite Michigan prospect has lived up to the hype, but it is hard to not get excited about Hill after his 2019. He has all of the talent in the world and will be put in position to use it this fall, as he will certainly be the starter at free safety from the get-go. He is still just a sophomore, but Hill is the impact player of the Wolverines secondary. A big year from him could mean a big year for the entire defense.