The best set of defensive backs reside in Ann Arbor

Posted: July 6, 2018 in College football
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Lavert Hill

Michigan cornerback Lavert Hill

When Jim Harbaugh was hired to take over the Michigan program beginning with the 2015 season, the offense was expected to improve, but it’s the defensive backfield that has taken the biggest jump.

Noted college football prognosticator Phil Steele has his own set of pass defense rankings that take into effect more than just the standard statistics that the NCAA uses. His rankings are adjusted based on the strength or weakness of each passing attack. For example, last year Georgia allowed just 158 passing yards per game on 55 percent completions with 13 touchdowns allowed and 10 interceptions. That would be good enough to rank No. 2 according to the NCAA. However, under Steele’s more accurate rankings, Georgia finished No. 25 due to facing numerous week passing attacks.

Michigan’s best pass defense ranking per Steele’s formula from 1998-2014 was No. 17 in 2006. The year before Harbaugh’s arrival the Wolverines ranked No. 62. Michigan improved all the way up to No. 3 in 2015! After another No. 3 finish in 2016, Michigan had to replace their top five defensive backs into 2017 including two NFL draft picks. An expected drop in the rankings was to be expected, however the Wolverines only fell to No. 6.

Cornerback David Long and free safety Tyree Kinnel started all 13 games last year, while CB Lavert Hill and strong safety Josh Metellus started 12. Hill earned second team All-Conference honors. All four starters return this year, as well as cornerback Brandon Watson and strong safety J’Marick Woods, who both started one game.

Hill (first team) and Kinnel (third team) were named 2018 pre-season All-Conference by Steele. Hill is very natural and instinctive with natural man-to-man coverage technique. As if the Wolverines didn’t already have enough depth, Casey Hughes was added as a graduate transfer after starting 11 games for a Utah team that finished No. 5 in Steele’s rankings!

A consistent group with everyone returning while also adding another starting cornerback from a premier defensive back gives the Wolverines the edge when ranking the top defensive back unit into the 2018 season.


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