Opinion Roundtable: Daxton Hill — Cornerback, Safety, Other?
When you have a player as talented as sophomore Daxton Hill, you obviously want to maximize his skills and use him however you can to help your team. As a part of the 2020 version of Michigan football, Hill seems valuable at several spots. Is he most valuable as a true safety, a cover corner or some type of hybrid that does a little bit of everything? We discuss...
With a guy like Hill, I like the idea of using him in a variety of ways; meaning he's not really a safety or a cornerback.
In obvious passing situations, depending on down and distance, you can use him as a blitzer or as a center fielder. Because of his speed and instincts he can shine in both roles. He's also a sure tackler and very aggressive on running plays or other balanced downs. Situationally, you can use him one-on-one against the other team's best player. Against Penn State, that's tight end Pat Freiermuth. Against Minnesota, that's wide receiver Chris Autman-Bell. Against Ohio State, there are a few, or maybe you use him as a spy on Justin Fields or as a box safety to eliminate crossing patterns. Maybe he's a nickel throughout the majority of a game depending on the other team's offensive approach.
Essentially, you use him each week in a way that makes your defense better against the other team's offense. I think Hill is smart enough and serious enough, and I know he's talented enough, to take on a load like that. Use him in a fluid way that allows him to stifle the other team's No. 1 offensive option. It could be one player or one type of play or even one overall approach. He's too good to leave in one spot so that other teams can neutralize him. If he's at cornerback, just don't throw to that receiver and he makes no plays. I don't like that. Use him everywhere and let him leave his fingerprints all over the game.
I would like to see Michigan use Dax Hill like LSU used to Tyrann Matthieu several years ago. There are too many needs in the secondary and he’s too good of an athlete to simply pigeonhole him into one facet of Don Brown’s scheme. I think he has the rare talent and ability to be situationally great. Meaning if he were in a New England type of defense I could see him playing nickel, safety or corner situationally week to week given what was needed the most in the game plan. With all this extra time to prepare for the season I’d like to see Michigan use Hill in a similar way.
As tempting as it may sound to move Dax Hill to the outside corner spot, I think he may be better served in an expanded safety role. Hill has shown that he's quick and has good ball skills, and he looks athletic enough to play corner if need be, but how long has it been since Michigan had a young, reliable and uber-talented safety in Ann Arbor? Even if Hill stays at safety, he can creep up to the line of scrimmage and play some nickel corner if need be, which Don Brown has shown he's prone to call plays like that in the past. That could be a middle ground where Hill takes some pressure off the cornerbacks group while also maintaining the role he was taught a year ago. If Michigan hits the field and is absolutely torched through the air to one side of the field, maybe Michigan should consider making the move then, but not right now.
Michigan has a storied tradition at the cornerback position, much more so than at safety, and under Jim Harbaugh, U-M fans have been treated to exceptional lockdown corner play, from Jourdan Lewis to David Long and Lavert Hill. Still, in today’s college football of 3- and 4-wide receivers, and tight ends flexed out as mismatches, the value of the do-it-all safety has gone way up.
In that regard, the promise that sophomore Daxton Hill showed at the safety position in 2019, someone with elite speed and athleticism that could cover slot receivers, even on crossing routes, and at the same time could charge the line of scrimmage to snuff out runs or beat blockers to the edge in creating chaos behind the line of scrimmage … the prospect of impacting all over the field is exciting. Thus, the idea of relegating Hill to one spot, covering one man, as a cornerback does, would be disappointing.
One could argue doing so speaks both to the confidence Michigan’s coaches have in other safeties, including senior Brad Hawkins, and the dearth of confidence they have in the cornerbacks in the absence of Ambry Thomas. Both those things are likely true. Still, U-M hasn’t had an athlete like Hill at safety, arguably, in the last two decades, and I’d rather sell him as a jackknife doing it all.