A History of #1 Safety Recruits

A History of #1 Safety Recruits


April 6, 2020
Daxton Hill (image via The Wolverine)

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When Michigan has landed a #1 recruit in the past, I have always done a look back at how other #1 rated prospects have performed in the past. I meant to do that with the safety position after Daxton Hill committed to the Wolverines, but somehow I didn’t get around to it.

Here it is.

2000: O.J. Owens – S – New London (NC) North Stanly
Owens (Tennessee) played in eighteen games from 2000-2003 but never achieved a great amount of success. He did not play in the NFL. He dealt with shoulder and head injuries throughout his career and sued the NCAA in 2016 due to head injury concerns.

2001: Ernest Shazor – S – Detroit (MI) King
Shazor (Michigan) contributed as a redshirt freshman and spent three more years in Ann Arbor, making 166 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 4 interceptions (1 TD), 5 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, and 12 pass breakups. He was a First Team All-American in 2004. He made a questionable decision to leave for the NFL after his redshirt junior year, and he was not picked in the 2005 NFL Draft. He spent one season with the Cardinals, playing in just two games.

Hit the jump for more.

2002: Pat Watkins – S – Tallahassee (FL) Lincoln
Watkins (Florida State) has spotty stats remaining, but he made 77 tackles as a senior and totaled 10 interceptions throughout his collegiate career. He was a 5th round pick (#138 overall) of the Cowboys in 2006 and made 128 tackles and 4 interceptions in five years with the Cowboys and the Chargers before going on to play in the CFL from 2012-2016.

2003: Prescott Burgess – S – Warren (OH) Harding
Burgess (Michigan) didn’t spend much time at safety. He bulked up into being a 6’3″, 235 lb. linebacker and made 173 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 4 interceptions (1 TD), 2 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, and 14 pass breakups. He was a 6th round pick (#207 overall) of the Ravens in 2007 and made 38 total tackles with the Ravens and Patriots before retiring after the 2011 season.

2004: Andrew Kelson – S – Houston (TX) Lamar
Kelson (Texas) made 70 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, and 1 interception in four years with the Longhorns. He was not drafted in the 2008 NFL Draft.

2005: Kenneth Phillips – S – Miami (FL) Carol City
Phillips (Miami) was the USA Today High School Defensive Player of the Year in 2004. He immediately started at free safety in 2005 and made 203 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, and 7 interceptions in three seasons on the field for the Hurricanes. He was a Freshman All-American and then First Team All-ACC in both his sophomore and junior seasons. He left early for the 2008 NFL Draft, where he was selected in the 1st round (#31 overall) by the Giants. He made 275 tackles and 8 interceptions in five years with the Giants and then one more season with the Saints. He retired in 2016.

2006: Myron Rolle – S – Princeton (NJ) The Hun School
Rolle (Florida State) started in his first season and spent three seasons in Tallahassee. He would make 206 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, and 1 interception during his college career. He somewhat famously took time off from football to become a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford and then was drafted in the 6th round (#207 overall) by the Titans. Despite spending a few years in the league, he never recorded any statistics. He is now working on a medical career.

2007: Eugene Clifford – S – Cincinnati (OH) Colerain
Clifford (Ohio State) made 8 tackles and 0.5 tackles for loss as a freshman backup, but off-the-field troubles ended his career in Columbus. He transferred to Tennessee State, where he made 121 tackles and 3 interceptions over the next two seasons. He spent a little time on the practice squad with the Ravens in 2011 but did not play in the NFL afterward.

2008: Will Hill – S – Jersey City (NJ) St. Peter’s Prep
Hill (Florida) became a three-year starter, making 144 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, and 4 interceptions during his career. As with many Urban Meyer products in Gainesville, Hill had off-the-field issues. He was not drafted in 2011 and spent a couple seasons with the Giants and two more with the Ravens, totaling 220 tackles, 1 sack, and 4 interceptions during his NFL career. At various times he has played in the AFL, the NFL, the AAF, the CFL, and the XFL, most recently with the St. Louis Battlehawks.

2009: Craig Loston – S – Houston (TX) Eisenhower
I thought Loston (LSU) was a can’t-miss prospect. He was a playmaker and fierce hitter coming out of high school. He was a backup for two seasons in Baton Rouge before claiming a starting spot as a junior and senior. His college career finished with 148 total tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 1 sack, and 7 interceptions. He went undrafted in 2014 and made 3 tackles during an on-again, off-again three-year career with the Jaguars.

2010: Keenan Allen – S – Greensboro (NC) Northern Guilford
I won’t spend much time on Allen’s career at Cal, because he didn’t play safety. He is/was a wide receiver for his entire collegiate and pro career. He played three years at Cal and made 205 catches for 2,570 yards (12.5 yards/catch) and 17 touchdowns; he also ran the ball 30 times for 230 yards and 2 touchdowns; and he added a punt return touchdown as a junior. He was a 3rd round pick (#76 overall) of the Chargers in 2013 and has since caught 524 passes for 6,405 yards and scored 34 total touchdowns.

2011: Karlos Williams – S – Davenport (FL) Ridge
Williams (Florida State) played in twelve games as a freshman backup and made 8 tackles. He was a backup once again in 2012, making 31 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 interception, and 2 pass breakups while averaging 26 yards per kickoff return. Early in his junior season, he switched to running back and ran 91 times for 730 yards (8.0 yards/carry) and 11 touchdowns as a backup. He became the starter at running back in 2014, running 150 times for 689 yards (4.6 yards/carry) and 11 touchdowns, along with 29 catches for 265 yards and 1 TD. Altogether, he ran for 1,419 yards and 22 touchdowns; caught 37 passes for 328 yards and 1 TD; made 47 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, and 1 INT; and averaged 22.6 yards on 29 kickoff returns. He was a 5th round pick (#155 overall) in 2015 by the Bills. He had a decent rookie year (613 total yards, 9 TD), but off-the-field issues cut his career short.

2012: Shaq Thompson – S – Sacramento (CA) Grant Union
Thompson started every game at nickel as a freshman, making 74 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 3 interceptions, and 3 pass breakups. By 2013 he was a full-time linebacker, making 78 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 1 interception (for an 80-yard TD), and 4 pass breakups. As a junior in 2014, he did something we rarely see in modern football by playing both ways – and not just on trick plays or random packages. He ran 61 times for 456 yards (7.5 yards/carry) and 2 touchdowns, caught 4 passes for 56 yards, made 80 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 interception (for a 36-yard TD), 3 fumble recoveries (for 184 yards and 1 TD), and 4 pass breakups. For the 2014 season, he was a First Team All-American and won the Paul Hornung Award for being the most versatile player. He finished his career with 233 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, 5 interceptions (2 TD), 5 fumble recoveries (3 TD), and 16 pass breakups. He was drafted in the 1st round (#25 overall) by the Panthers in 2015 and has made 355 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 1 interception, 2 forced fumbles, and 2 fumble recoveries so far.

2013: Su’a Cravens – S – Murrieta (CA) Vista Murrieta
Cravens (USC) started immediately at USC and made 52 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and 4 interceptions. As a sophomore in 2014, he made 68 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, 3 interceptions (1 TD), and 9 pass breakups, and he was named First Team All-Pac 12. He led the team with 86 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, and 6 pass breakups in 2015. He was drafted in the 2nd round by the Redskins (#53 overall) in 2016. He spent two years with the Redskins and one with the Broncos after being traded, making 52 tackles, 1 sack, and 1 interception before retiring following the 2018 season.

2014: Quin Blanding – S – Virginia Beach (VA) Bayside
Blanding (Virginia) started all twelve games as a freshman and set a school record for tackles with 123, which was good enough for #12 in the whole country that year; he also made 2.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 3 interceptions, and 6 pass breakups. For that performance he was named a freshman All-American. Those ridiculous stats continued throughout his career. He was First Team All-ACC for the next three years and a Second Team All-American as a senior. He’s #1 in school history and #6 in ACC history with 495 career tackles, and he also made 9 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 10 interceptions, and 27 pass breakups. Surprisingly, he was not drafted in 2018 and has only spent time on a couple practice squads over the past couple seasons.

2015: Derwin James – S – Auburndale (FL) Haines City
James (Florida State) was a Freshman All-American and a Third Team All-ACC selection in 2015, making 91 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, and 5 pass breakups. He then missed most of 2016 with a meniscus tear. When he returned in 2017, he was back in top form with 84 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 2 interceptions, and 11 pass breakups. He left after his junior year to get drafted in the 1st round (#17 overall) by the Chargers and has since made 131 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 3 interceptions, and 14 pass breakups as one of the top safeties in the league.

2016: Brandon Jones – S – Nacogdoches (TX) Nacodoches
Jones (Texas) started just one game as a freshman (16 tackles on the year) before becoming a full-time starter for his remaining three seasons. He finished his college career with 233 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 4 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries, and 11 pass breakups. NFL.com gives him a 5.99 draft grade, which makes him essentially a borderline special teamer/”traits-based developmental player.”

2017: JaCoby Stevens – S – Murfreesboro (TN) Oakland
Stevens (LSU) split time between wide receiver and safety as a freshman, making 2 catches for 32 yards. He started the final four games as a sophomore, finishing with 35 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 interception, 1 fumble recovery, and 5 pass breakups. He became a full-time starter in 2019 and made 92 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 3 interceptions, and 6 pass breakups.

2018: Caden Sterns – S – Cibolo (TX) Steele
Sterns (Texas) has started 21 of his first 22 games at Texas, missing a few contests due to injury. He was First Team All-Big 12 as a freshman in 2018. His stats have largely been identical in his first two seasons, except his 4 interceptions dropped to 0 in year two. So far he has 120 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, and 9 pass breakups.

2019: Daxton Hill – S – Tulsa (OK) Booker T. Washington
Hill (Michigan) made three starts as a freshman, totaling 36 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 1 interception, 2 fumble recoveries, and 3 pass breakups.

2020: Jaylon Jones – S – Cibolo (TX) Steele
Jones signed with Texas A&M. And yes, he’s the second #1 safety in the span of three years from the same high school.

CONCLUSIONS

By the numbers, here are the draft picks from draft-eligible players:

  • 1st round: 3
  • 2nd round: 1
  • 3rd round: 1
  • 4th round: 0
  • 5th round: 2
  • 6th round: 1
  • 7th round: 0
  • Undrafted: 7

So five guys were early picks (“Day 1” or “Day 2” guys), three were picked in round five or later, and seven went undrafted.

Four guys switched positions (Burgess and Thompson to LB; Williams to RB; Allen to WR).

Surprisingly, Michigan has landed more #1 safeties (3) than any traditional powerhouse (Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, USC, etc.), and that’s the same number as Florida State and Texas. Those three programs have gobbled up 9 of the #1 safeties since 2000. Unfortunately, of Michigan’s two #1 safeties before Hill, one left early and went undrafted, and the other turned into a linebacker. Both were fairly productive college players, but neither one really fulfilled his recruiting promise.

WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN FOR DAXTON HILL?

Well, I’m kind of cheating because we’ve already seen a year of him in college. Stylistically, I think the closest similarity is Kenny Phillips. Phillips could run and tackle, and he was 6’2″ and 212 lbs. with a 4.48 forty coming out of college. Hill is listed at 6’0″ and 190 lbs., and I’m not sure he will get to the same weight as Phillips.

3 comments

  1. Avatar
    Comments: 1267
    Joined: 8/13/2015
    Roanman
    Apr 06, 2020 at 8:17 AM

    Excellent post.

    2012: Shaq Thompson – S – Sacramento (CA) Grant Union

    (Washington) You forgot it, so I had to look it up. He spent some time in the lower minors of the Boston Red Sox as well.

    I never was able to figure out what the NFL didn’t like about Earnest Shazor’s game. I’m also not sure what another year of college football would have done for Shazor in light of the outcome. Although, I’m reasonably certain it would have swung at least one and maybe more of the close losses that were the story of the 2005 season our way.

    As an aside, every time I see that red field at Orchard Lake Saint Mary that our new punter kid plays on, I think of the playoff game that Grant Mason basically won on the first play from scrimmage.

    Marine City had a big, fast stud running back that had ripped off long runs for touchdowns on everybody, all season long. In their game at OLSM, they opened up a huge hole on the left side that they had blocked all the way to Mason that was going for 76 yards and 6. Except, Mason rolled in no fuss, no muss and cut the kid down at the knees for maybe a five yard gain. He didn’t even fall forward. I was standing up by the track against the fence about halfway between the play and the Marine City bench. You could feel the breeze go by as the air went out of the entire team. Pretty sure that was the single most deflating 5 yard gain in the history of football. The next 59 minutes and thirty seconds were played with an assured outcome. It was a lesson.

    • Thunder
      Comments: 3571
      Joined: 7/13/2015
      Apr 06, 2020 at 8:34 AM

      Yeah, I was actually going to put something in there about Thompson playing baseball, but when I looked it up, the article said he quit baseball after striking out 37 times in 39 at-bats. Ouch.

      That’s funny about Grant Mason. It’s funny how sometimes you think you have a good team, but then a D1 player can just wreck everything. We had a pretty good team when I was a junior in high school and were rolling along; then a dude who went to MSU ate us up. We felt pretty unstoppable before that, but that left some doubt in our minds.

      • Avatar
        Comments: 120
        Joined: 9/13/2015
        AC1997
        Apr 07, 2020 at 8:07 AM

        I have a similar story from this year. My son’s high school made the state finals in Illinois for the largest division, had an amazing defense, and faced AJ Henning’s team in the championship. They bottled him up all night in an ugly slug fest in freezing rain except for one play. He got loose once down the sideline and that was the only TD either team scored. I have no such memories from my own small high school in Michigan that has probably never produced a D1 player.

        I was expecting to see Jabril on your list, but then I realized he was ranked as an athlete – not a safety.

        I’m optimistic for Hill and I think he’s off to a good start with his career. Michigan has been doing a good job of squeezing a lot of talent out of all of their safeties the past few years. The question will be whether he gets enough highlight plays to match those other NFL draft prospects.

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