Name: Jalen Mayfield
Weight: 296 lbs.
High school: Grand Rapids (MI) Catholic Central
Position: Offensive tackle
Class: Redshirt freshman
Jersey number: #73
Last year: I ranked Mayfield #30 and said he would be a backup offensive tackle (LINK). He started all thirteen games at right tackle.
TTB Rating: 87
Mayfield was a big question mark going into 2019, because nobody knew – including the coaches – if he was even going to be a starter. He and Andrew Stueber were in a heated battle for the starting right tackle job, and I believe Stueber was going to win. Unfortunately, Stueber tore his ACL in August, giving Mayfield the job by default.
Overall, Mayfield had a very good redshirt freshman season, even though it got off to a little bit of a rocky start early in the year. He didn’t make a lot of embarrassing mistakes, but he was a little unsure of his assignments. And he wasn’t quite as nasty as he will be as he gets older. However, he improved throughout the year, enough to be named Honorable Mention All-Big Ten.
When everyone was slated to return, I thought Mayfield was the most important guy. Michigan lost four starters on the offensive line, and Mayfield was the only guy coming back. Then the season was “canceled,” Mayfield opted to enter the 2021 draft, and Michigan had to replace all five starters . . .
. . . until Mayfield opted back in. Some people projected Mayfield as a first round pick, and others felt he would go on the second or third day. I’m guessing Mayfield will still enter the 2021 NFL Draft, but he will have an extra year of film now. I do think he has potential to be a high draft pick down the road, but I didn’t see a dominant player in 2019 that should be entering the draft so early.
Prediction: Starting right tackle
Name: Ambry Thomas
Weight: 182 lbs.
High school: Detroit (MI) King
Jersey number: #1
Last year: I ranked Thomas #11 and said he would be a starting corner by the end of the season with 15 tackles and 1 interception (LINK). He made 38 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 3 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries, and 7 pass breakups.
TTB Rating: 90
Thomas had a rough go of it in the lead-up to the 2019 season, coming down with colitis that caused him to lose weight and put his season in jeopardy. He was not on the 110-man roster to start fall camp . . . and yet somehow he was ready to start game one against Middle Tennessee.
And he started off with a bang, too, making 1 tackle, 1 interception, and 1 fumble recovery in that season opener. He added interceptions against Iowa and Michigan State, too. Coaches in the conference took notice, naming him Third Team All-Big Ten for the year. And he was named the team’s Defensive Skill Player of the Year over the more recognized Lavert Hill and a safety who got drafted, Josh Metellus.
Michigan was set to have another lockdown corner returning in 2020 . . .
. . . and then COVID-19 hit.
Thomas opted out of the 2020 season to prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft, citing his bout with colitis as the main factor. That has left the Wolverines scrambling to find a second cornerback. For several years, Michigan has just reloaded at cornerback, but the remaining ammunition might be full of blanks. Vincent Gray was a constant contributor in 2019, but nobody seems to have taken a stranglehold at the other spot. Numerous names have been rumored to lead, including Gemon Green, D.J. Turner, and Jalen Perry. Daxton Hill would probably start at corner if he wanted to do it, and former safety Sammy Faustin has been bumped over to corner for more depth and competition.
Naturally, Michigan opens up against Minnesota and Rashod Bateman, one of the top few receivers in the conference. Michigan’s pass rush might hit home and help out the back end, but Thomas’s absence will be felt throughout the season. I have faith that Mike Zordich will coach the corners as well as anyone can, but things could get ugly against the better passing teams on the schedule.
If you’re taking notes, Michigan is missing the #2 most important player (Thomas), the #5 guy (Nico Collins), and the #10 guy (Dylan McCaffrey), although McCaffrey had clearly become less important than I had estimated.
Prediction: Leaving for the NFL draft
Name: Daxton Hill
Weight: 192 lbs.
High school: Tulsa (OK) Booker T. Washington
Jersey number: #30
Last year: I ranked Hill #42 and said he would be the starting nickel corner (LINK). He started three games and made 36 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 1 interception, 2 fumble recoveries, and 4 pass breakups.
TTB Rating: 100
Hill was the best safety in the 2019 class, and expectations were sky-high for him as a freshman. Safety is a tough spot to play for any first-year player, so Michigan worked him in slowly. They had that luxury because the team had senior Josh Metellus and junior Brad Hawkins at safety, plus senior Lavert Hill and junior Ambry Thomas at cornerback.
Hill showed flashes of stardom as a freshman. In week two he caught a 25-yard pass from Michael Barrett on a fake punt against Army. He made a diving interception at Indiana. He made 8 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss in the bowl game against Alabama. (Also noteworthy: he got burned for a touchdown on the first play by Jerry Jeudy.)
Now Jim Harbaugh is saying things like “Hill is the most talented athlete on the team.” Don Brown is saying that safety Hill “is the best cover guy on the team.” Word on the street is that the coaching staff has asked Hill to play corner, but he has balked at the idea since he plans to play safety in the NFL.
There was a time that Michigan talked to Hill about playing him both ways in college. I wonder if 2020 may be a year when Hill gets some opportunities on offense. Ambry Thomas got a look on offense as a sophomore in 2018, and Michigan lost three receivers from last season (Donovan Peoples-Jones, Tarik Black, and Nico Collins). Though there is still talent at receiver, I wonder if Hill might get a chance to make some plays.
Even if Hill sticks to defense only, we should see a big year from him. Though production might be down overall since the Big Ten is only slated to play nine games, I think Hill will have the best season of any Michigan safety since Harbaugh was hired in 2015. He’s fast and tackles well, and a year of experience under his belt should help with fleshing out opposing offenses. I’m excited about what he will bring to the table in 2020.
Prediction: Starting free safety
Hit the jump for some of Hill’s 2019 highlights.read more
Name: Aidan Hutchinson
Weight: 269 lbs.
High school: Dearborn (MI) Divine Child
Position: Defensive end
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