The best kind of safety is one who rarely has to make any tackles because the front seven is so dominant. Jim Harbaugh has generally had success developing the safety position during his time as Michigan Wolverines head coach.
Let’s take a look at the best five he’s had during his tenure in Ann Arbor.
5. Delano Hill (2013-16)
Four-star recruit — No. 303 overall, No. 26 S in 2013 class
Delano Hill was among the more reliable safeties early in Harbaugh’s tenure. As a junior in 2015, he played in 13 games while starting eight of them and was a solid all-around contributor. In 2016, he took a major step forward and was recognized on the All-Big Ten second team by the coaches.
Hill was drafted in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks. He remained with the Seahawks until early 2021, despite not seeing much playing time. In the spring of 2021, he was quickly signed and released by the Carolina Panthers.
4. Tyree Kinnel (2015-2018)
Four-star recruit — No. 189 overall, No. 11 S in 2015 class
If you look up “development” in the dictionary, you’d see “Tyree Kinnel” as the definition. Kinnel started his career only playing on special teams and in mop-up duty. While not overly athletic, he worked his way up to being a contributor, a starter, and then a team captain his senior season.
He was named to the All-Big Ten honorable mention team as both a junior and senior. He may not have jumped off the page as the rest of the guys on this list, but Kinnel was as trustworthy as they come in the secondary.
Kinnel signed as an undrafted free agent in 2019 with the Cincinnati Bengals. He was unfortunately cut during the last roster cuts of the preseason. He next popped up during the 2020 XFL Draft when the DC Defenders selected him. He actually had a pretty good start in the XFL prior to the league folding, eventually leading the Pittsburgh Steelers to sign him. Sadly, that was short-lived as the Steelers waived him four months later.
3. Josh Metellus (2016-2019)
Three-star recruit — No. 739 overall, No. 48 S in 2016 class
Metellus came to Ann Arbor as an unheralded recruit from Flanagan High School in Florida, the home of Devin Bush. During his time at Michigan, all Metellus did was start 37 games at safety and rack up All-Big Ten honors in three different years (honorable mention in 2017, second team in 2018, and third team in 2019). Casual.
The Minnesota Vikings drafted him in the sixth round of the 2020 NFL Draft. He has seen some playing time and remains on the roster as of today, entering his third season with the franchise.
2. Brad Hawkins (2017-2021)
Three-star recruit — No. 425 overall, No. 66 WR in 2017 class
No, your eyes don’t deceive you. Michigan’s second-best safety of the Harbaugh era was the 66th rated wide receiver coming out of high school.
Hawkins played exclusively on special teams as a freshman before changing positions to safety his sophomore year due to a log-jam at receiver. By his junior year, he was already a reliable player before quietly leading the defense as a senior in 2020 and a graduate student in 2021.
While he doesn’t have the stats or accolades Metellus and Hill have, Hawkins was invaluable to a Michigan defense that contained Ohio State in 2021. Also, who could forget his forced fumble at Nebraska this past year?
Despite hopes he would be drafted in the 2022 NFL Draft, Hawkins signed as an undrafted free agent with the Atlanta Falcons.
1. Daxton Hill (2019-2021)
Five-star recruit — No. 14 overall, No. 1 S in 2019 class
Daxton Hill was easily one of Harbaugh’s greatest recruiting wins. Having to fend off Alabama for a five-star recruit is no small feat. Harbaugh was rewarded wonderfully by Hill being an other-worldly athlete.
As a true freshman, Hill saw the field consistently both on defense and special teams. His fake punt reception against Army was pivotal to Michigan’s success. His sophomore season saw him start all six games and finish second on the team in tackles with 46. As a junior, he was named first team All-Big Ten and was consistently avoided by opposing offenses. It’s a shame we only got to see him in Ann Arbor for three years, but generational talents like Hill tend to go to the league as fast as possible.
The Cincinnati Bengals selected Hill in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft. He will look to be an immediate impact player for the Super Bowl runner-ups.
Honorable Mention: Khaleke Hudson (if you consider him a safety which is what he came to Ann Arbor as)