Five defensive backs who could be breakout stars in 2020
We don’t have spring football but we can still look ahead to the next college football season. Here is a series of breakout players at each position for next season, ending today with the defensive backs.
Mark Pszonak contributed to this report.
DAXTON HILL, Michigan
The skinny: Hill provided one of the biggest surprises of the 2019 Early Signing Period when he flipped from Alabama to Michigan. He had actually been committed to the Wolverines initially before doing his flip to the Tide and then back to Ann Arbor.
While it took Hill a little bit of time to adjust to the speed of the college game, he proved he deserved the five-star hype. He finished his true freshman season with 36 tackles, three tackles for loss, one interception and three pass breakups. He finished strong, too: 19 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and an interception came in his last three games.
Farrell’s take: Just watch: Hill is going to be a star. As a five-star out of high school he was beyond sudden and so explosive to the football, and I felt he could also impact on special teams as well. He’s going to be one of the best defensive backs in the Big Ten.
TIAWAN MULLEN, Indiana
The skinny: Mullen trimmed his list of top schools down to Indiana, Nebraska and Pittsburgh before committing to the Hoosiers during his senior season. He took official visits to each of the three schools before making his decision.
Mullen did not disappoint during his first season with the Hoosiers, finishing with 28 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and an extremely impressive 13 pass breakups. He also improved his level of play as the season progressed, so after a full off-season in Bloomington, look for even bigger things from him in 2020.
Farrell’s take: Mullen won’t get the same attention as his older brother, Trayvon, who was a star at Clemson, but he could be just as good. Mullen was a four-star out of high school for a reason despite being very small at the time. His ability to play the ball in the air is impressive.
TYKEE SMITH, WVU
The skinny: Smith trimmed his list of top schools to West Virginia, Baylor and North Carolina before committing to the Mountaineers in the days leading up to the start of his senior season. He mentioned the strong relationship he developed with the West Virginia coaching staff as his deciding factor.
Smith immediately became a major contributor for the Mountaineers as a true freshman last fall with 50 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions, one sack, one forced fumble and four pass breakups. He has returned in 2020 bigger and stronger, which should make him a nightmare for quarterbacks in the Big 12 this fall.
Farrell’s take: Smith was a four-star out of high school with no fear, and he played bigger than his size. He’s an excellent tackler and is especially effective moving forward, but he has skills that are also improving in pass coverage. In the wide open Big 12, he is much needed.
KOLBY HARVELL-PEEL, Oklahoma State
In 2019, he finished with 71 tackles, three tackles for loss, five interceptions and 13 pass breakups. Harvell-Peel may have already broken out in the Big 12, but 2020 should be the season when he has his national coming-out party. A knee injury against Oklahoma in the regular season finale has slowed down his off-season, but he is in line to be 100% by the time preseason rolls around.
Farrell’s take: Harvey-Peel was a mid-range three-star out of high school with good size, but he lacked great speed overall. His instincts have always been excellent and you could argue he’s already broken through, but this is the year he will break out nationally.
LEWIS CINE, Georgia
The skinny: Cine committed to Georgia over Michigan, Texas, Florida and Penn State during his senior season. Penn State had the early lead, but when he moved from Massachusetts to Texas for his final high school season, several other programs, including the Bulldogs, jumped at the opportunity.
While he only totaled 19 tackles and one interception in 2019, 12 of those tackles came during the last two games of the season. He started in the Sugar Bowl for injured J.R. Reed and quickly showed everyone that he will be a player to watch in 2020.
Farrell’s take: Cine was a Rivals100 prospect for many reasons as he had size and speed but also hit with power. He showed flashes of that ability last season and came on strong, and it’s clear he’s going to be a star in the SEC. This is the season that happens.