Even though Josh Metellus is in the NFL now, the safety position looks a lot stronger for the Michigan Wolverines than it did a year ago.
With former five-star Daxton Hill set to take over a starting role, Brad Hawkins back for one more season, and a slew of talented freshmen coming in to compete for a spot in the two-deep, things look very good for the present and the foreseeable future.
Here is my two-deep prediction for the safeties heading into the 2020 season.
Strong Safety — Brad Hawkins, SR
Hawkins got his first taste of consistent starting action last year, compiling 53 total tackles and one pass defended in 11 games. He should have also had an interception against Notre Dame, but the zebras took that away in one of the worst pass interference calls of all time.
What Michigan has in Hawkins is a reliable tackle who can hold his own in the cover game. He isn’t a monster cover guy by any means, but he does enough all around to make him a very solid contributor. Michigan fans should feel very good about him taking over for Metellus in 2020.
Free Safety — Daxton Hill, SO
As many Michigan fans are, I am excited to see more of Hill in 2020.
As a true freshman, Hill cracked the lineup pretty early on, but didn’t actually start his first game until the Indiana game in November. In total, he racked up 36 total tackles, three tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries, four pass breakups and one interception. Not bad for a first-year contributor in Don Brown’s defense.
Of course he had some freshman mistakes here and there — one play against Alabama in the Citrus Bowl comes to mind — but Hill showed a lot of good things in 2019 and should be even better this season. He is a do-it-all type of player who has the potential to be a great U-M defensive back when it’s all said and done, and that all begins his year.
Backup Strong Safety — Sammy Faustin, RS SO
I wrote about Faustin not long ago as an under-the-radar player to watch for this season, and I think he will be one of the first guys off the bench for Hawkins.
Faustin redshirted in 2018, but did get some playing time last season. In nine games in 2019, with three on defense, he had two total tackles. The stats aren’t exactly eye-popping, but the fact he got some playing time last season shows me the coaches think highly enough of him to want to get him that experience. He has patiently waited his turn, and I think the time is now for Faustin to get even more playing time.
Backup Free Safety — Makari Paige, FR
I know he is just a true freshman, but I believe Paige has the talent to crack the two-deep in his first year in Ann Arbor.
The 6-foot-3, 192-pounder from West Bloomfield is a former four-star recruit who was heavily recruited by a ton of top programs. He is a rangy guy who can not only cover the field very well, but can also come up and lay the hit stick if needed.
Paige is a versatile guy who I expect to see in some capacity this fall, whether that’s on defense or special teams. With the Big Ten-only season in effect, it may be harder than ever to get young guys on the field, but if there is a blowout at any point this year, Paige could very well be one of the first guys out there to get some experience.