There’s a debate raging over just how important the safety position is to modern defensive play. But while there’s disagreement on whether it should be considered a premium position, there’s no argument that good safety play is a boon to his team.
Just ask the Daxton Hill and the Michigan Wolverines. Hill was part of the three-headed monster that helped turn the Michigan defense into the terror of the Big 10 by the end of the 2021 season. And while Hill doesn’t get the recognition that his teammates in the defensive front receive, he made his presence felt every week.
Games Played: 32
Tackles For a loss: 7.5
Passes Defensed: 15
Games Played: 14
Tackles For a loss: 4.5
Passes Defensed: 8
Best: Athleticism, range, versatility, zone coverage, run defense, blitzing, football IQ
Worst: Foot quickness, man coverage
Projection: A starting safety with scheme and positional versatility.
Michigan’s Daxton (Dax) Hill is a smart, athletic, and versatile safety prospect.
Hill has solid length for the position at 6 feet tall, with relatively long 32 ¼ inch arms, though he has a somewhat slender frame for a safety at 191 pounds. He played a huge variety of roles in Michigan’s defense, lining up as a deep safety, box safety, slot corner, and even a pseudo-linebacker on occasion.
Hill’s versatility gave him great utility for the Wolverine’s defense and he was able to impact the offense in all phases of the game. He was frequently used as a slot defender, covering receivers, tight ends, and running backs when they motioned to the slot. Hill has fluid hips for a safety and plenty of speed to carry receivers down the field. He also has good play recognition from zone coverages, while his athleticism gives him good range.
Hill flashes impressive processing skills and instincts from zone coverages. He does a good job of reading the quarterback and does a good job of undercutting and high-pointing passes – in addition to having a good trigger on underneath plays. Hill is a disciplined defender who does a good job of sorting out route concepts and is a very active communicator with his teammates.
He also has great range in space, quickly getting depth on his zone drops as well as sprinting to his landmarks when the defense employs coverage rotations. Hill was also frequently asked to blitz from both a safety and slot alignment. He generally times his blitzes well and has great speed into the backfield. While he doesn’t have much production in the backfield, his athleticism and ability to blitz effectively from the second level makes him disruptive.
Hill is a reliable tackler around the line of scrimmage and in space. He is unafraid of contact and generally tackles with good form to bring down ball carriers. He is capable of taking on blockers on the perimeter and is an effective run defender from the second level.
While Hill is an excellent athlete, he struggles some when asked to match up on receivers in man coverage. In particular, he struggles at the catch point and teams have made a point of targeting him in man coverage. Hill’s feet seem a bit slow in his back pedal and he lets his pads rise slightly. He has very fluid hips for a safety, but his feet and pad level allow receivers to gain a step of separation out of their breaks. Likewise, Hill doesn’t have great explosiveness in his lower body, limiting his closing burst. He isn’t quite able to consistently play receivers hands from a trail position, allowing well-placed passes to be caught.
Overall Grade: 8.5
Dax Hill projects as a starting defensive back at the NFL level, with the potential to be an impact player for the right defense.
Hill is versatile enough that his exact position might depend on the scheme into which he is drafted. He might be labeled a “nickel defender”, a “free safety”, or simply “DB” depending on the team. But whatever his eventual coordinator calls him, Hill should be able to find a home in his future defense. He has the range, communication skills, and Football IQ to man deep coverage zones, as well as the physicality and athleticism to man shallow coverage zones.
Particularly aggressive or creative defensive coordinators could envision Hill as a defensive weapon in the mold of Tyrann Mathieu or Troy Polamalu.
Teams will want to figure out why Hill struggled some at the catch point in man coverage. He has the traits to suggest upside there, but allowed too many receptions. It could add yet another dimension of versatility to his game if his ability to play man coverage can be developed at the NFL level.
That said, Hill should be a good player at the NFL level who can impact the game as a coverage player in zone, run defender, and blitzer.