2020 Season Countdown: #4 Aidan Hutchinson

Tag: 2020 season countdown


19Oct 2020
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2020 Season Countdown: #4 Aidan Hutchinson

Aidan Hutchinson (image via Detroit News)

Name: Aidan Hutchinson
Height: 
6’6″
Weight: 
269 lbs.
High school:
 Dearborn (MI) Divine Child
Position: 
Defensive end
Class: 
Junior
Jersey number: 
#97
Last year: 
I ranked Hutchinson #3 and said he would be a starting defensive end with 50 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, and 5 sacks (LINK). He made 68 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 6 pass breakups, and 4 quarterback hurries.
TTB Rating:
 88

There’s been talk on the blog over the years about comparing Aidan Hutchinson to Rashan Gary, so here are the sophomore numbers for each:

Player A: 65 tackles, 11.5 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 1 FF, 7 QB hurries
Player B: 68 tackles, 10.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 2 FF, 6 PBU, 4 QB hurries

If you were paying attention up above, you know that Player B is Hutchinson in 2019, playing with Kwity Paye at the opposite end and nobody noteworthy at defensive tackle. Player A is, of course, Rashan Gary in 2017 with Chase Winovich on the other side, plus Maurice Hurst, Jr. at nose tackle and future first round pick Devin Bush, Jr. at middle linebacker.

This is not to say that Hutchinson is better than Gary or will even be a first round pick, but it does show that Hutchinson is producing just as well as Gary, despite lesser surrounding talent.

This season Hutchinson and Paye will be of utmost importance with Michigan’s cornerback situation. Lavert Hill’s graduation and Ambry Thomas’s opting out of the 2020 season have left the Wolverines scrambling to find consistency, which has necessitated moving rotational safety Sammy Faustin to corner for depth. Hutchinson is both a run-stopper and a solid pass rusher, and his knack for knocking down passes at 6’6″ (6 in 2019) is sometimes forgotten. Michigan needs to be great up front to make up for their inexperience on the back end.

Prediction: Starting strongside end

18Oct 2020
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2020 Season Countdown: #5 Nico Collins

Nico Collins (image via Detroit News)

Name: Nico Collins
Height: 
6’4″
Weight: 
215 lbs.
High school: 
Birmingham (AL) Clay-Chalkville
Position: 
Wide receiver
Class: 
Senior
Jersey number: 
#4 #1
Last year: 
I ranked Collins #7 and said he would be a starting wide receiver with 60 catches for 990 yards and 10 touchdowns (LINK). He caught 37 passes for 729 yards and 7 touchdowns.
TTB Rating:
 85

Going into the 2019 season, I thought Collins would become the alpha of the wide receivers and lead the team in all categories, including receptions, yards, and touchdowns. While he did lead in touchdowns, he was second in receptions and yards behind slot receiver Ronnie Bell. He was a big-play guy with a Big Ten-leading 19.7 yards per reception.

I have long been questioning Michigan’s wide receiver production, and Collins’s was no exception. In three years where he averaged 17.8 yards per catch for his career, he topped 100 yards in a game just once (6 catches for 165 yards and 3 touchdowns against Indiana in 2019).

Collins was given the #1 jersey going into the season, but it doesn’t matter because he opted out of playing in 2020. Instead, he will enter the NFL Draft, despite the fact that it’s a deep wide receiver class and, in my opinion, he has little hope of going in the first round.

Collins will be missed. I think a good argument could be made for moving him higher in the countdown. He’s 6’4″ and reportedly ran a 4.46 this off-season (even though I never trust the times that come out of Michigan). He’s legitimately one of the best receivers in the Big Ten, and the Wolverines will be without his services. They have no other size mismatches and will instead have to rely on the speed of some young guys, along with the basketball instincts of Ronnie Bell.

Prediction: Will enter 2021 NFL Draft

17Oct 2020
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2020 Season Countdown: #6 Kwity Paye

Kwity Paye (image via Freep)

Name: Kwity Paye
Height: 
6’4″
Weight: 
277 lbs.
High school: 
Providence (RI) Bishop Hendricken
Position: 
Defensive end
Class: 
Junior
Jersey number: #19
Last year: 
I ranked Paye #17 and said he would be the starting weakside end with 45 tackles and 5 sacks (LINK). He made 54 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, and 1 fumble recovery.
TTB Rating:
 81

Michigan had a few breakout players on defense in 2019, and Paye might have been the biggest. He went from being a rotational player in 2018 to getting enough hype following last season to be bandied about as a potential 1st round draft pick. He also was named the #1 “freak” on Bruce Feldman’s annual “Freaks List.” This all came on the heels of a relatively modest 12.5-TFL, 6.5-sack season. His real coming out part seemed to take place against Iowa, when he made 4 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 2 quarterback hurries against a respected Hawkeyes offensive line.

This feels like a weird thing to say after all that hype, but here it is, anyway:

Kwity Paye makes me wonder about the effectiveness of Shaun Nua’s coaching.

Paye was a project coming out of high school in 2017, when he was a part-time running back in Rhode Island. So the fact that he has reached these heights is impressive in itself. But when you watched Paye in 2019, he didn’t really do anything special. He’s fairly quick. And he’s fairly strong. And he’s got a good motor. But when it comes to technique or defeating blocks? Nah. He doesn’t have any pass rush moves. He just kind of keeps going and going until he’s in the lap of the quarterback.

If Paye is going to capitalize on the first round hype, I think he has to add some noticeable technique to his arsenal. If he doesn’t, I think that will be an indictment of Nua, who will have had two seasons with a pretty talented guy with nothing much to show for it. For some reason I don’t see Paye taking a giant step forward, but he should still be pretty good. And the fact is that behind starting ends Paye and Aidan Hutchinson, there isn’t much. The most proven guy is Luiji Vilain, who has suffered through injury but hasn’t shown much upside when he actually got on the field. Paye has the versatility to play inside and outside, and he would be a big loss if injured.

Will he be a first round pick in 2021? My gut says no, but he should have a solid season for the Wolverines.

Prediction: Starting weakside end

Hit the jump for some 2019 highlights.

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15Oct 2020
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2020 Season Countdown: #7 Brad Hawkins

Brad Hawkins (image via MLive)

Name: Brad Hawkins
Height: 
6’1″
Weight: 
218 lbs.
High school: 
Suffield (CT) Suffield Academy
Position: 
Safety
Class: 
Senior
Jersey number: 
#20
Last year: 
I ranked Hawkins #33 and said he would be a backup safety (LINK). He started ten games and made 53 tackles with 1 pass breakup.
TTB Rating:
 78

I typically have an annual “Why did PFF grade that guy so high?” situation, and the 2019 version of that guy was Brad Hawkins. He was First Team All-Big Ten to Pro Football Focus (as the “flex” defender) despite not being on the coaches’ all-conference team and only being named honorable mention by the media. He managed to get his hands on the ball just 1 time, which came in the season opener against Middle Tennessee. After three years in the program, he has just 2 career pass breakups. He is a solid tackler coming up from the third level, but is he much more than that?

Maybe. I sure hope so. Because he’s the only returning starter in the secondary. Michigan lost safety Josh Metellus and cornerback Lavert Hill to graduation/the NFL, and cornerback Ambry Thomas opted out of the 2020 season. Budding star Dax Hill also returns at safety, but Hawkins has to be a steadying force on the back end. Everyone is unproven and almost totally inexperienced behind the starters.

Hawkins has been prone to some coverage busts, and he’s a little grabby for my liking. I think he can be taken advantage of in coverage if opposing offensive lines can hold up long enough to give quarterbacks a chance to throw. But Michigan returns a couple of the top defensive ends in the conference and has a blitz-happy defensive coordinator. Hopefully Hawkins can improve his coverage a little bit while continuing to offer solid run support.

Prediction: Starting strong safety

Hit the jump for some of his 2019 highlights.

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11Oct 2020
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2020 Season Countdown: #8 Cam McGrone

Cam McGrone (image via 247 Sports)

Name: Cam McGrone
Height
6’1″
Weight: 
236 lbs.
High school: 
Indianapolis (IN) Lawrence Central
Position: 
Linebacker
Class: 
Redshirt sophomore
Jersey number: 
#44
Last year: 
I ranked McGrone #47 and said he would be a backup linebacker and special teamer (LINK). He started ten games at middle linebacker and made 66 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 pass breakup, and 5 quarterback hurries.
TTB Rating:
 80

Nobody expected McGrone to be a starter in 2019. Josh Ross was the starting middle linebacker, Jordan Glasgow was the starting weakside linebacker, and Devin Gil had started at WILL in 2018. So Michigan had three starting inside linebackers for two spots, and that didn’t include Jordan Anthony, who was in the rotation.

Then Ross got hurt, and the inexperienced McGrone – who had played in just one game in 2018 – was the wide-eyed beneficiary. He made 6 tackles against Wisconsin, showing off his speed. Shortly afterward, he would go on his best streak of the year, with 35 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks against Iowa, Illinois, Penn State, and Notre Dame.

This year McGrone leaps into the top ten of the countdown partly because of the important position he plays – middle linebacker – but also because of the complete lack of experience behind him. Glasgow is blocking punts in the NFL, Jordan Anthony entered the transfer portal, Gil transferred to USF, and Ross shifted to WILL. Michigan has two solid players at inside linebacker, but behind them is redshirt freshmen Charles Thomas and Joey Velazquez, true freshmen, and walk-ons. And while there has been positive buzz about the true freshmen, the crickets have drowned out anything about Thomas and Velazquez.

McGrone should get a chance to show off his blitzing ability and sideline-to-sideline speed in 2020, and hopefully he can stay healthy throughout the year.

Prediction: Starting middle linebacker