Whether it be his three-interception game in the 2018 Cheez-It Bowl or his Odell Beckham Jr.-esque interception in last year’s Big Game victory, former Cal safety Jaylinn Hawkins has a knack for making highlight-worthy plays.
While Hawkins clearly has a nose for the football, the main selling point for the former Bear is undoubtedly his physicality. He’s one of the hardest hitters in his draft class and can serve as an enforcer in the box at the next level. Although he has the ability to flatten opposing playmakers, he also makes the occasional blunder when going for home-run tackles. Targeting penalties have been a slight issue throughout his career, and sometimes he opts against wrap-up tackles in favor of lowering the shoulder. Both of these weaknesses did improve throughout his tenure at Cal, but they are by no means fully corrected.
In college, Hawkins served as the perfect complement to teammate and now-fellow draftee Ashtyn Davis, as the former tended to play closer to the line of scrimmage and was the more physical of the two. In the NFL, Hawkins’ ideal fit would be similar: a box safety who provides strong run defense and can cover sufficiently when needed.
In pass coverage, he relies on his football instincts to make plays, as he doesn’t quite possess blazing speed or acceleration. Hawkins only participated in the vertical and broad jumps at the NFL combine, as he did not want to set himself back while recovering from a hamstring injury. He, like many of his teammates, was hoping to show off his entire range of athleticism at Cal’s Pro Day before it was canceled due to the coronavirus.
With prior experience as both cornerback and wide receiver, Hawkins possesses a versatile skill set and understands offenses better than most in this year’s group of safeties do. This strategy served him well in college, allowing him to lead the Pac-12 with six interceptions in 2018 before tacking on three more in his final season.
NFL teams will have a chance to scoop up one of the Pac-12’s best defenders over the past couple of years without sacrificing a lot of draft capital. Hawkins projects as a late-round (sixth or seventh round) draft pick, with a small chance of going undrafted. He will likely serve as a depth and special teams piece early on in his career, but if he can work on disciplining his open field tackling, then his physicality and ball-hawking abilities should be enough to help him make a 53-man roster at the next level.
Shailin Singh covers football. Contact him at