On paper, the New England Patriots do not appear to have a need for another safety. Devin McCourty was re-signed in free agency, Jabrill Peppers was brought aboard, and both Adrian Phillips and Kyle Dugger are signed for the next few seasons. The group is already one of the deepest in the NFL.
And yet, the Patriots going after a safety should not be discounted — especially one as impressive as Michigan’s Daxton Hill. A true do-it-all defender who fits what the team is looking for in the secondary, Hill joining New England as an early-round selection could very much happen.
So, with that said, let’s get to meet him and find out what he brings to the table.
Name: Daxton Hill
Position: Defensive back
School: Michigan (Junior)
Opening day age: 21
2021 season: 14 games; 69 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss; 68 targets, 48 catches, 456 yards, 1 touchdown, 2 interceptions; 0.5 sacks
Size: 6002, 191 lbs, 32 1/4 arm, 79 1/4 wingspan, 9 1/2 hand
Expected round: Late 1st
Strengths: A former five-star recruit out of high school, Hill can play any role in the secondary at a high level — something he did during his three seasons at Michigan. He has the football IQ and mental processing skills to transition between assignments quickly, and combines it with the athleticism to successfully wear multiple hats.
Here’s some of his versatility playing slot corner - Instinctual player that can fit all over the secondary and fit due to his athleticism. pic.twitter.com/59RBlCT7vI— Ryan Spagnoli (@Ryan_Spags) March 11, 2022
Running a 4.38-second 40-yard dash, Hill has the range to align as a deep centerfielder in single-high coverage shells. He also has the quick-twitch movement skills to move down to the slot and help in man-to-man or zone concepts. Additionally, he is not afraid to come down and play the run either from the box or in the deep parts of the field; Hill is a physical player and despite a lack of bulk is a sound tackler.
Here he is again taking on bigger guys and getting physical in the run game. Put this guy in Bill Belichick’s defense and he’ll find any spot for him to succeed in. pic.twitter.com/8S4iLxFpmw— Ryan Spagnoli (@Ryan_Spags) March 11, 2022
Hill also takes good angles in pursuit and has the speed to close in quickly on ball carriers or shut down throwing windows. In general, he has shown good anticipation and an ability to read opposing quarterbacks when guarding either the deep parts of the field or playing underneath. A scheme-agnostic player capable of finding success regardless of the defense he is in, he does it all at a fairly high level.
Weaknesses: Hill is neither the biggest nor the strongest player, which might limit the versatility he showed in college when entering the next level. At 191 pounds he does not have the ideal size to play in the box, or to take on NFL-caliber tight ends in coverage. His tackling form was successful at Michigan, but it too might become a problem versus pro-level competition.
Hill furthermore trusts his instincts a bit too much, oftentimes relying on his athleticism and elite range rather than his keys.
What would be his role? Hill would probably start his career with the Patriots as a rotational player in the secondary, taking the field in select situations and as part of nickel, dime and quarter packages. With Devin McCourty’s future beyond 2022 uncertain, there is a chance the Michigan product takes on a starting role as early as 2023. He would then serve as the top deep-field option in single-high and two-safety looks.
Does he have positional versatility? Hill’s ability to play multiple roles without a noticeable drop-off in production is one of his defining traits. While a majority of his snaps came in the slot in 2021 — almost 70 percent — he was moved deep, into the box and even split out wide. Additionally, Hill has considerable experience in the kicking game and should make an immediate impact on kick coverage.
Who is his competition? A projected first-round draft pick, Hill would not face any competition for a roster spot. As far as playing time goes, however, he would probably compete with the nickel/dime personnel currently on the roster. That means safeties Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips and Jabrill Peppers but even more so slot cornerbacks Jonathan Jones and Myles Bryant.
Why the Patriots? Devin McCourty is on the back nine of his career, and the clubhouse is already in sight. With no clear successor on the roster at the moment, bringing Hill aboard would make all the sense in the world. The 21-year-old has everything New England wants out of a defensive back, after all: range, versatility, smarts, you name it. He would essentially be allowed a year to watch and learn from the team captain before taking over his role in 2023.
Why not the Patriots? New England has considerable needs at multiple positions, but safety is not one of them. Sure, Hill has played boundary cornerback before but he would not be able to help replace CB1 J.C. Jackson. Drafting him in Round 1, however, would prevent the team from finding a suitable replacement for its departed Pro Bowl cornerback.
Verdict: Projected as a deep safety in the NFL, Daxton Hill would be a luxury pick for the Patriots for 2022. However, his outlook as a potential Devin McCourty successor makes him a very real possibility in the late first round. That is especially true if New England is successfully trading down into the high 20s; the team could still pick Hill at No. 21 but a trade-down followed by his name being called seems like a more realistic course of action.