From now until the 2022 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to scout and create profiles for as many prospects as possible, examining their strengths, weaknesses, and what they can bring to an NFL franchise. These players could be potential top 10 picks, all the way down to Day 3 selections and priority undrafted free agents. Today, I’ll be profiling a defensive back prospect that starred at multiple spots in the secondary during his three years in college and could be a unique chess piece for defensive coordinators that deploy him correctly in their scheme at the next level.
#30 Daxton Hill, DB, Michigan (Jr.) – 6002, 191 lbs.
|Player||Ht/Wt||Hand Size||Arm Length||Wingspan|
|Daxton Hill||6002/191||9 1/4||32 1/4||79 1/2|
|40-Yard Dash||10-Yard Dash||Short Shuttle||3-Cone|
|Broad Jump||Vertical||Bench Press|
— Has the size and the length you desire in an NFL defensive back
— Possesses the straight-line speed and burst to cover ground quickly in pursuit or when tasked with running with receivers vertically
— Shows good closing speed and effort in pursuit as a tackler
— Will come downhill and strike backs and receivers on underneath throws as well as chase down runners from behind
— Swiss Army Knife defender with experience playing single-high safety, split zone safety, in the box, at the nickel/dime corner, and out on the boundary
— Effective in the slot near the LOS thanks to his athleticism and tenacity as well as a deep safety with the range and ball skills to play the pass
— Efficient mover in coverage, having fluid hip turns and a steady backpedal
— Has the instincts and awareness to represent himself well on coverage whether on his man or when needed to break off to the throw away from him
— Extensive experience during his time in college on special teams units
— Needs to be more consistent in his transitions in coverage as receivers will stack him vertically at times when manned up or get a step on him out of their breaks
— Will give up inside leverage on a lot of in-braking routes, allowing easy completions over the middle
— Not the most physical presence at the catch point and will get the ball wrestled away from him at times by bigger receivers
— Could stand to get a little stronger and play with better technique when in press man
— Does a good job evading blocks, but will struggle to fight off them once locked on
— Junior prospect from Tulsa, OK
— Born Sept. 29, 2000 (age 21)
— Brother, Justice, was a running back at Oklahoma State and was drafted in the fourth round (113 overall) by the Baltimore Ravens in the 2019 NFL Draft
— 2018-19 Gatorade Player of the Year in Oklahoma
— Five-star recruit rated No. 7 overall prospect, the No. 1 in Oklahoma and No. 1 safety in the country and was invited to play in the 2019 U.S. Army All-American Bowl
— Starred at receiver and defensive back in HS, signing with Michigan to play safety after initially choosing Alabama
— Appeared in 13 games including 12 on defense with three starts as a true freshman and recorded 36 total tackles (25 solo), three TFLs, two fumble recoveries, four pass breakups, and one interception while playing heavily on special teams
— Started all six games at safety and played on special teams his sophomore season; and finished with 46 tackles (29 solo) and five total pass breakups including one interception
— Played and started in 14 games in 2021 and recorded 69 total tackles (42 solo), 4.5 TFLs, half a sack, one fumble recovery, eight pass breakups, and two interceptions
— Appeared in 33 career games with 23 starts in the secondary
— First team All-Big Ten in 2021, Academic All-Big Ten in 2020
Daxton “Dax” Hill from Michigan has been under the microscope ever since high school as a five-star recruit and the top safety in his recruiting class. After initially committing to play for Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide, he ended up switching to don the Maize and Blue in Ann Arbor. Hill saw the field right away and made an impact as a key special teams player covering kicks and punts, but also saw time at safety, recording three starts as a freshman. Since then, Hill’s role on defense has expanded immensely, being a jack-of-all-trades defender playing deep safety, box safety, nickel/dime corner, and even as a boundary cornerback on occasion.
My cousin and current Papadopoulos Family Director of Athletic Training : Football Phil Johnson has been with the program since 2000. I asked him in a recent phone call about Hill and he responded:
“Dax is a really good kid. Works his butt off and is a good guy both on and off the field. He is extremely versatile and is a great athlete, probably one of the faster guys that we have had in the DB room since I have been here. He is a little lean and may need to get stronger, but his length and athleticism make me think he’ll be a successful pro at the next level.”
While most of Hill’s work came as a safety to start his time at Michigan, he was asked to play more cornerback for the Wolverines in 2021 out on the boundary and in the nickel/dime. Here on this screen pass play to the receiver on the jet-motion to the right, Hill aligns as the nickel defender in the slot covering the TE detached from the LOS. Hill quickly recognizes the screen pass and breaks on the ball, evading the cut block by the TE as he continues his pursuit and squares up the receiver in the backfield, wrapping him up for a loss of yardage on the play to put Nebraska behind the chains. A great job fighting through the attempted block and making the play in space.
For playing defensive back, Hill plays with the aggressiveness and urgency you to be a viable defender in run support or as a blitzer. He closes ground quickly both as a run-and-chase defender against the run as well as a pass rusher like on this play against Wisconsin where Hill lines up in the slot but bolts for the passer on the snap of the ball, accelerating into the backfield and drills the Wisconsin QB #5 Graham Mertz in the side for a violent sack.
Hill is a physical defender both when asked to tackle as well as when it comes to giving effort in pass coverage. He is a competitor and will attempt to make a play at the catch point to knock the ball out of the intended receiver’s hands. Watch as the Badgers receiver carries Hill up the steam then breaks out to the right sideline. Hill initially gives up some separation, but recovers and contests the catch, knocking the ball out of the receiver’s hands with his left arm, forcing the incomplete pass.
Here is another example of Hill contesting the catch point to end the Huskers’ chances of getting into field goal range to tie the game. On this play. Hill lines up in the slot and on the snap of the ball, he flips his hips to mirror the right sideline as the receiver tries to get an outside release. Meanwhile, Hill works over the crossing pattern with the outside receiver coming across his face, staying in-phase in coverage and runs stride-for-stride with his man down the sideline as Martinez puts up the deep ball. Hill maintains great position on his man and makes a diving attempt at the ball, ultimately coming short, but still forces the key incompletion.
Hill is a fluid mover in space and can run with backs, tight ends, and even wide receivers on occasion when tasked with man coverage. On this interception that Hill makes during the game came on a pass breakup where he is tasked with covering the in-line TE. Hill recognizes the pass and runs in-stride with the TE over the middle of the field, keeping his eyes on the ball as it is thrown and bats the ball into the air as he leaps forward to cover the pass, managing to knock it away, but keeps his focus on the ball as it falls to the ground. Hill catches the ball before it hits the ground, securing the interception and the turnover for the defense.
On this zoomed-in TV copy of the play, we see Hill’s situational awareness on full display as he nearly intercepts the ball on his try attempt, having the TE tip the ball out of his hands, but Hill keeps his eyes on the ball as he falls to the ground, breaking his fall with his arms, yet never takes his eyes off the ball falling back to him. Hill saves the ball from falling incomplete to the turf by snatching it before it can hit the ground for the highlight play. Overall, a great heads-up play by Hill to get the pick by having great focus on the ball.
You see that same instinctual awareness when Hill is tasked with dropping into zones, having the eyes to quickly break off his spot and maneuver where the QB is throwing the ball. Against the Badgers, watch as Hill lines up in the over the slot on the right side of your screen then drops into his zone in the Cover 2 look. He identifies Mertz starring down his intended target and breaks back to the ball, jumping the pass for the pick.
Still, there are several key aspects of Hill’s game that he will need to work on or that prohibit his ability to play every position in the secondary in the pros without more development. While Hill is incredibly competitive and physical, He will tend to overrun ballcarriers at times or leave his feet, resulting in missed tackles. His lack of overall play strength also results in him losing at the catch point to bigger, longer receivers like on this play where Hill loses a step over the middle to the receiver in the slot, leaping in attempt to deflect the pass, but can’t force the ball out of the receiver’s hands as he high points the football.
One play later, we see Mertz go right back to #13 Cameron Dike on the left side of the formation in the slot where Hill is playing the nickel. He stays with Dike on the slot fade into the end zone but doesn’t get his head turned around to locate the football or play through Dike’s hands at the catch point, allowing Dike to high point the football for the touchdown.
While Hill is a good athlete and can change directions well in space, he sometimes puts himself into bad position in coverage against receivers due to poor judgement or technique, leading to him giving up separation which lead to completions. Against Ohio State, we see Hill lunge forward, attempting to jam #11 Jaxon Smith-Njigba on the attempted screen pass. While Hill initially throws Smith-Njigba off, he quickly breaks to the sideline as Hill loses leverage and turns his shoulders, resulting in the easy completion that Hill misses the tackle on while chasing from behind.
Later in the same game, we watch as Hill plays Smith-Njigba with far too much outside leverage, leaving the inside wide open as Hill stalls his feet when Smith-Njigba breaks inside for the reception, successfully moving the chains on the key fourth down conversion to keep the drive alive.
One player that came to mind when watching Hill was former Rutgers DB and current New York Giant Logan Ryan. Ryan played outside CB in college but since has played various positions in the secondary in the league like Hill. He has excelled in more of a safety/nickel role which is also Hill’s best projection in the league, even though both defenders can play on the outside. While Hill may be just a little bit better of an athlete than Ryan, both defensive backs have nearly identical size and measurables, bringing a versatile skillset to the NFL.
Ryan was drafted in the third round back in 2013, and while Hill has the pedigree and talent to warrant Day One consideration due to the amount of hats he can wear, he likely will find himself going on the early stages of Day Two to a team looking for a starting free safety or nickel defender than can be flexible and play more spots as he adjusts to the speed of the game in the league. Hill is undoubtedly a gifted defensive back that has the traits to contribute in a multitude of ways for a defense, but the overall lack of actual ball production as well as inconsistencies in man coverage suggest he still needs some time rounding out his game.
For Pittsburgh, the versatile skillset of Hill somewhat mirrors that of Minkah Fitzpatrick who can play all over in the secondary. While Hill’s best position in the pros would likely be as a free safety like Fitzpatrick, he could legitimately play the nickel role that was once occupied by Mike Hilton, providing a similar feisty competitor that can blitz and aid in run support while having a likely better skillset than Hilton did as a cover man. Position-versatility is a key trait to have in today’s passing league, and given Hill’s talent and ability to grow, he should be a sought-after commodity when the draft rolls around in April.
Projection: Late Day One to Early Day Two
Depot Draft Grade: 8.5 – Future Quality Starter (2nd Round)
Games Watched: at Wisconsin (2021), at Nebraska (2021), vs Ohio State (2021), vs Iowa (2021)