In a somewhat surprising move, Michigan Wolverines junior defensive lineman Chris Hinton announced back in January that he was forgoing his senior season and declaring for the 2022 NFL Draft.
He didn’t end up getting drafted, but will still get a shot in the league with the New York Giants, signing as an undrafted free agent.
Many figured Hinton would stick around another year in college to further develop, but he decided to take a leap after a junior season that was his best in a Michigan uniform.
Hinton came to Michigan as a five-star recruit out of Norcross, Ga. in Jim Harbaugh’s 2019 recruiting class. The 6-foot-4, 310-pounder avoided a redshirt in his freshman season and saw an expanded role along the defensive line as the season progressed.
In the COVID-shortened 2020 season, Hinton saw his role expand even further, appearing in all six games while making four starts. He made 13 tackles (two for loss) during his sophomore season.
As a junior, Hinton was selected as an honorable mention All-Big Ten performer by the coaches and media for his play on Michigan’s Big Ten Championship team. He finished the season with a career-high in tackles with 33 while recording 1.5 tackles for loss.
As an NFL prospect, Hinton has upside, but it will be a matter of whether he can prove to scouts if that upside is great enough to move his way up the draft boards.
One of Hinton’s major strengths is his sheer size. A place Michigan has lacked a ton of depth recently is at the defensive line position, and Hinton helped shore the interior line up enough to where opposing teams could no longer attack in that area with such ease.
Hinton not only takes up space with his size, but has shown ability to shed blocks and get his hands on running backs trying to burst through the line. When he does get his hands on a ball carrier, he usually has the power and finishing ability to bring them down before they have a chance to burst through and break off big gains.
He also has shown a level of discipline and versatility in the passing game, with the awareness to get his hands up on screen passes and blow up plays before they develop.
There is also no doubt Hinton’s bloodlines will help his cause. His father, Christopher Hinton Sr., was selected fourth overall by the Denver Broncos in the 1983 NFL Draft as an offensive lineman. The elder Hinton went on to play 13 seasons in the NFL and made seven Pro Bowls.
As far as weaknesses go, Hinton certainly has athletic potential but has yet to fully put in on display consistently. He could use a go-to move in the pass rushing game to be able to create more penetration up the middle to help collapse pockets inside. He also has to be able to win often enough against his man to be able to get into the backfield to try to disrupt both run and pass plays.
Before this season, Ian Cummings, a draft analyst at Pro Football Network, wrote that Hinton is inconsistent at reaching the point of attack first and can be moved off his spot, which are things that seemed to hold true at certain times this season while watching Hinton.
“In run defense, Hinton sometimes struggles to reach the point of attack first. Once he loses at the contact point, he can be fairly easy to move off-base,” Cummings wrote. “Moreover, he isn’t consistent at generating displacement in run defense. The Michigan product can stand his ground with his strong base, but he doesn’t often create negative plays for the defense. He flashes an urgency that helps to maximize his movement, but he can be more consistent with this trait.”