This Saturday’s watch list of college football (October 30) will feature one game:
Michigan (6) at Michigan State (8) at 12:00 p.m. ET on FOX
All eyes throughout the state will be on this game—likely including the Detroit Lions—so why not dedicate this entire watchlist to examining every player in this game that could find themselves in an NFL camp this fall, either via the NFL draft or as an undrafted free agent?
Before we get into the prospects in this game, if you’re interested in going back and looking at the previous Saturday watchlists to revisit some of the players profiled, you can find those links here:
- Pre-season Quarterback watchlist
- Week 1, September 4
- Week 2, September 11
- Week 3, September 18
- Week 4, September 25
- Week 5, October 2
- Week 6, October 9 — All linebackers edition
- Week 7, October 16
- Week 8, October 23
Alright, let’s get to this week’s profiles.
Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan (Senior)
6-foot-5, 265 pounds
At the pace Hutchinson is wrecking offensive linemen, it wouldn’t surprise me if by the time the draft rolls around he’s in the top five on the Lions’ big board. Hutchinson doesn’t have the twitch off the edge as Kayvon Thibodeaux—who Lions’ general manager Brad Holmes got eyes on last week—but his speed to power is elite and his game is more balanced and complete.
Hutchinson can play on both sides of the line, he can rush with his hand in the dirt, from a standing linebacker role, and even from the 3-technique. He wins with a variety of pass-rushing moves, can bull rush, beat tackles to the edge, and often uses that to set them up and dip back inside. He can set the edge, stop the run... there just aren’t a lot of weaknesses to his game.
“Hutchinson has recorded a 92.6 PFF grade through the first half of the 2021 season, the highest mark among all FBS edge defenders,” PFF said in their mid-season awards article. “His 32.4% pass rush win rate is on pace to break the Power 5 record in the PFF College era by multiple percentage points... He isn’t just the best edge defender in the country; he is the best player in all of college football through the first half of the year.”
Daxton Hill, Safety, Michigan (Junior)
6-foot-0, 192 pounds
I don’t want to spend too much time on Hill because I have already profiled him twice this season, but that speaks to how well I believe he would fit into the Lions scheme. Here is was what I said about him when he was on my watchlist in early September:
Hill is a pure free safety with the coverage skills to play in the slot and potentially at outside corner. Not only does Hill possess 4.3-second speed, but he is a sure tackler who is comfortable operating in space. His ability to be a hybrid player would be awfully appealing for Lions’ defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, who has a history of developing position versatile defensive backs.
Top 50 feels right for him right now, but he has the type of athletic skill set that often gets drafted in the first round.
Kenneth Walker III, RB, Michigan State (Junior)
5-foot-9, 210 pounds
Walker absolutely took over from the moment he stepped on the field in East Lansing. Heading into last week’s bye, Walker led the NCAA in rushing yards (997) and yards after contact. He averages 6.6 yards per carry, has nine touchdowns, and has yet to fumble the football on 152 carries over seven games (his streak of fumbless carries is at 315, leading the NCAA).
Walker runs low to the ground and creates a difficult target for defenders to hit. Couple that with the power to routinely shake off weak tackling attempts and it’s a daunting task for defenders. Add in his vision, quickness, burst, and leg drive, and it’s clear why he is on scout’s radars.
I place him as a top-100 player right now, for two main reasons. First, the running back position has become devalued in recent drafts as teams have realized they can wait at the position to find talent, and the shelf life of an NFL running back is short. Second, teams often pick a specific set of skills they’re looking for and that makes projecting backs even harder. Could he go in the top 50? For sure. He is talented enough, and if the right team wants him, they may take him. At the same time, if the match isn’t there, he could slide into the early parts of Day 3 of the draft. It’s the nature of the position right now.
Xavier Henderson, Safety, Michigan State (Senior)
6-foot-, 210 pounds
A four-year starter, Henderson came out of the gate on fire this season and earned some well-deserved recognition from PFF. He has shown nice range in zone coverage, a nose for the football, and he likes to tackle—all traits the Lions are looking for in their safeties.
XAVIER. HENDERSON.— Ian Cummings (@ian_cummings_9) September 11, 2021
Another sleeper in a great safety class!
Hassan Haskins, RB, Michigan (Senior)
6-foot-0, 220 pounds
Like With Walker, Haskins’ projection is mainly due to the value of the running back position, because he has the talent to be a Day 1 contributor in a rotation in the NFL. Also like Walker, he has yet to fumble this season (on 124 carries) and is a bear to take down in the open field. Haskins’ game is built on power, but his sneaky athleticism makes him a balanced player NFL coaches will love.
Chris Hinton, DT, Michigan (Junior)
A former five-star recruit with NFL bloodlines, Hinton has finally come into his own this season. He’s not overly athletic but he is stout and can hold his spot with a powerful base. He’s not a penetrator—which is ultimately why I think he lands on Day 3—but he can two-gap and play up and down the line, which will make him an appealing player regardless of scheme.
Jayden Reed, WR, Michigan State (Junior)
6-foot-0, 190 pounds
A special player with the ball in his hands, Reed routinely wins in the open field with his burst, acceleration, agility. He shows off those talents as one of State's top receiving options and as their primary kick returner. So far through seven games, he averages 20.8 yards per reception on offense and has already housed two punt returns for touchdowns.
Jalen Nailor, WR, Michigan State (Junior)
6-foot-0, 190 pounds
Nailor is more of a pure receiver than Reed, but he has tremendous speed, is a more polished route runner, and can stretch the field with his deep routes. His game against Rutgers highlighted his deep threat skills, as he had three touchdown catches over 60+ yards on a four-catch, 208-yard first half.
Brad Hawkins, Safety, Michigan (Senior)
6-foot-1, 220 pounds
I profiled Hawkins in an earlier watchlist and here’s what I had to say:
Hawkins began his career as a wide receiver but quickly switched to safety as a freshman. Hawkins took advantage of the NCAA COVID-19 waiver system in 2021, allowing him to return to Ann Arbor for a fifth year, his third as a starter. After spending the majority of his time in a strong safety role, Hawkins has expanded his positional range, seeing time at free safety when Hill moves into the slot.
Hawkins is not as athletically gifted as Hill, but he is smart, instinctive, reliable, understands angles, is impressive in run support, and is a sure tackler. His expanded role on defense, along with his special teams prowess, should put him on the radar early on Day 3.
Josh Ross, LB, Michigan (Senior)
6-foot-1, 224 pounds
Projection: Day 3
Ross is in his fifth season at Michigan, and he has started every game he was healthy over the last three seasons. Returning for 2021 proved a smart move as he has worked his way into draftable grade this season. As Michigan’s MIKE, Ross has shown the intelligence to man the middle, leadership to keep the defense on the same page, and improved athleticism that has upped his skill set in coverage and run defense.
Andrew Stueber, RT/G, Michigan (Senior)
6-foot-6, 338 pounds
Projection: Day 3
Stueber has always been a solid pass protector but his contributions in the running game haven’t been at an NFL level. He has made a strong effort to develop those skills this season and has done enough to warrant a role as a reserve swing offensive lineman in the NFL who is capable of playing at right tackle or at guard. He’s a project with upside.
Injured but draftable
Ronnie Bell, WR, Michigan (Senior)
6-foot-0, 190 pounds
Projection: Day 3
Bell has arguably been the Wolverines' best receiver over the last three seasons, and he got off to an incredible start in 2021:
Stoopid catch by Ronnie Bell— Erik Schlitt (@erikschlitt) September 4, 2021
Yeah I know it was technically an OPI, but that call was questionable and it goes down as a green checkmark play in my notebook pic.twitter.com/ilOxCRWklh
Ronnie Bell with the slant fade, stacks the coverage for a 76-yard TD pic.twitter.com/3Z5BRyOPPW— Erik Schlitt (@erikschlitt) September 4, 2021
But the good times wouldn’t last as Bell tore up his knee not long after this play on a punt return and would be lost for the year. Bell could absolutely take a medical redshirt and return to Ann Arbor for another season, but he will also turn 22 years old this winter, which could influence his decision to jump to the NFL. If the injury drops his stock—and if he can’t participate in draft workouts, it surely will—he could end up being a steal.
Projection: Undrafted Free Agents
Listed alphabetically, not by priority
- Matt Allen, IOL, Michigan State (Senior), 6-foot-2, 315 pounds
- Drew Beesley, EDGE, Michigan State (Senior), 6-foot-2, 260 pounds
- Vincent Gray, CB, Michigan (Senior), 6-foot-1, 192 pounds
- Jarrett Horst, LT, Michigan State (Senior), 6-foot-5, 305 pounds
- Donovan Jeter, NT, Michigan (Senior), 6-foot-2, 325 pounds
- Jake Moody, K, Michigan (Senior), 6-foot-0, 211 pounds
- Jacob Panasiuk, EDGE, Michigan State (Senior), 6-foot-3, 255 pounds
- Andrew Vastardis, IOL, Michigan (Senior), 6-foot-2, 300 pounds
Vastardis is a bit undersized but highly intelligent, and now that he is healthy, he has shown solid movement skills from the center position. I could see him sneak into the later rounds of the draft.