Detroit Lions rookie defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, fresh off being named Rookie Defensive Player of the Month, made it clear to reporters on Thursday that he’s happy with where he landed in the draft some seven months ago.
“I’m here now and I’m happy,” Hutchinson said.
But that doesn’t mean he’s forgotten what happened on that Thursday night back in April. Hutchinson had the opportunity to have the distinct honor of being the first overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. For months and months, he had believed that the Jacksonville Jaguars, who had that first overall pick, would take him.
But about a week before the draft, his agent sent him a message indicating he wasn’t likely the pick. He didn’t get an explanation, he hadn’t had a ton of contact with the Jaguars anyways, but just like that, he was no longer considered the Jaguars’ top option. Indeed, when draft night came, it was Georgia edge defender Travon Walker who heard his name called first.
Now, as Hutchinson prepares to play the one team that passed him up, he’s ready to show that they made a mistake.
“That will definitely be in the back of my head playing that game,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson isn’t the only person in the locker room holding a grudge from draft day. Last year, Amon-Ra St. Brown was the 17th wide receiver taken in the 2021 NFL Draft, and the Lions wideout has those 16 players taken before him memorized. Hutchinson didn’t have it quite as bad on draft weekend, but that doesn’t mean he’ll forget... ever.
“I guess I’m lucky to only have to remember one name in front of me,” Hutchinson said. “Obviously I’m in a good situation here and I’m happy, but draft day you still remember, and that will stick with me forever.”
Hutchinson has had a largely successful rookie season thus far. He leads rookies with 5.5 sacks, is the only defensive lineman with two interceptions, and has been named Rookie of the Week and Defensive Rookie of the Month.
Walker’s rookie season has been a lot less flashy. While he did pick up an interception early in the year, he has just 2.5 sacks on the season. Still, coach Dan Campbell has noted that he, like Hutchinson, is slowly getting better every day.
“He’s got length, he’s got speed, he’s got power, and every week he gets a little bit better,” Campbell said this week. “So, I think – I think they’ve got a good pick up over there and I think we got a good pick up, so.”
Sunday’s game won’t prove which team got it right, but it will provide Hutchinson with a little more motivation than a normal week. Though he doesn’t know if it was the reason Jacksonville passed on him, one popular critique of Hutchinson was that his arm length was too small at the NFL level. Sunday, he hopes to make that a non-factor.
“We’ll see if that extra couple inches was the difference.”