[This article was originally posted in September. Only the first paragraph has been updated]
Daxton Hill has a knack for pulling Michigan out of the BPONE. His original commitment on September 18 marked the official end of the Moribund Recruiting Period that started about a year before it. Then Hill helped put Michigan back it the pit a few weeks ago when he suddenly announced a flip to Alabama. That decision, according to Sam Webb, truly only lasted a few days, and Hill made his recommitment to Michigan both public and permanent by signing his letter of intent this morning.
While Michigan had been digging out since February by putting together a top 15 class, a lot of that was based on smart scouting and getting in on early on guys who would end up rising up the ranks. Hill is another beast entirely: the consensus top safety in the country and top target for everyone including Alabama. Hill is a capital-G Get and a payoff for Michigan getting a couple of young up-and-comers on the staff. Sherrone Moore is Hill's primary recruiter.
Let's see what Michigan's won.
|5*, #24 overall
#1 S, #1 OK
|4*, #13 overall
#1 S, #1 OK
|5*, #7 overall
#1 S, #1 OK
|5*, #8 overall
#1 S, #1 OK, #212 all-time
As noted, Hill is the consensus top safety prospect in the country. The only wobbles are ESPN's exceedingly stingy five-star distribution (just 11) and Rivals being slightly less enthralled than the other two services.
Usually when you're talking about a safety in such rarified air it's because he is an absurd athlete. Check:
Per ESPN his 40, vert, and overall SPARQ score are the best for anyone they rank as an ATH and his overall score is second in the nation behind only GA LB Owen Pappoe.
That comes through on his film, which shows him playing as a deep safety, outside corner, and nickelback. It is generally violent and features a number of impossible-seeming run-downs. More immediately relevant for Michigan fans are a number of episodes of slot coverage on which Hill looks extremely comfortable.
I'd recommend you actually watch that tape because Hill's athleticism is obvious to anyone. It is the primary thing anyone brings up in scouting reports. 24/7 after the Opening:
"...safety size but is one of the fastest players in the country ... with his ability to run and cover, he looks like a college player right now. He has a freakish combination of size and athleticism" Also: "looked like more than just an athlete though, he showed a ton of range in coverage and was smooth in his backpedal."
Between the off-the-charts athleticism, high IQ and playmaking ability between the chalk, the 6-foot 1/2, 187-pound Hill is exactly how you draw it up as the last line of defense in the secondary. When he’s around the ball, you can bet the Tulsa (Okla.) Booker T. Washington standout is going to make a play on it.
...he's clearly moving at a different speed than his peers. He excels in coverage, breaking quickly when the ball is in his region and turns into a receiver when he can make a play. The change of direction quickness is off the charts.
Rivals, for its part, praises him for being a "complete prospect" because he "has elite speed, covers like a cornerback, and hits like a safety" and says he "combines excellent speed with tremendous ball skills and tackling ability." ESPN has a brief underclass evaluation:
Explosive athlete ... pursues fast without much wasted motion and is very active around the ball in both run and pass support. Shows good pop on contact as a tackler...very gifted.
Texas's 24/7 site did a film rundown of their main safety targets that gets into a bit more detail about Hill's multi-purpose abilities:
...tremendous build with good bulk and room to add weight ... elite burst and speed. He shows the ability to play deep at safety and cover receivers in the slot. Hill shows good movement ability with strong explosion in and out of his breaks. Hill plays with good coverage technique and smooth transitional ability. He comes downhill and hits like a sledgehammer and shows strong change of direction skills. ... has the overall package to play deep, in the nickel or in the box at the next level.
...can play with an over-aggressive tempo which can cause him to overrun plays at times. He should also work on being more consistent with his tackling technique ...inconsistent hands.
They also provided the lone note of caution after something called "PRIME 21":
Hill definitely had his moments as he displayed phenomenal closing speed and a great football IQ. But he was a little inconsistent in 1-on-1's, which is probably due to the fact that he's a pure safety.
I talked to Sam Webb about him a bit after the WTKA show one week; the main takeaway was that the Bama program believed he was the best safety Saban had pursued in his time there. Webb cautioned that one seemingly major advantage for Michigan, the possibility of early playing time, wasn't actually much of a factor because Hill was Just That Good. "Rats," I thought at the time. Now: giggity.
The comparables mentioned by sites and coaching staffs are what you'd expect for this level of prospect. Hill told the 24/7 site that their staff was comparing him to multi-purpose DB Minkah Fitzpatrick, another 6-foot-ish safety capable of playing CB if necessary. Fitzpatrick was the 11th pick of the most recent draft. Rivals's Mike Farrell brought up FSU safety Jalen Ramsey:
"He’s a freak athlete. ...could play corner at the next level with his ability or be that Jalen Ramsey type who starts at safety and moves to corner and works at nickel. ... He has so much speed and so much talent, a super-explosive kid. He has make-up speed, closes on the football really well, plays against the run and runs things down as well."
The obvious Michigan comparable is Jabrill Peppers, but Brandon Brown notes that they're different players:
Peppers was listed at 6-1 and was the No. 1 cornerback in the country but it became clear during his Michigan career that he was much shorter than that and far better suited to play near the line of scrimmage. Hill is definitely more of a safety because of his length and ranginess and is actually north of 6-feet. Even when you watch them on tape you can see that Peppers is more suited for contact and run support, where Hill is much more of a lengthy ballhawk in the deep secondary.
Hill is a true safety with a height that is slightly over 6-foot, and not a 5'10" explosion machine on the edge.
[After THE JUMP: highlights you should actually watch]