“So in terms of the Lions up there at the top of the draft, Aidan Hutchinson to me is the run the card up if he gets there.”
Those are some definitive words from NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah, but he is absolutely right because, if available, the Detroit Lions should draft Michigan edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson with no hesitation.
For the last six months, Hutchinson has been the belle of the ball, and for the most part, the presumed No. 1 overall pick in the draft. But the winds of change are upon us and whispers of the Jacksonville Jaguars passing on the Wolverine in favor of other options—Georgia’s Travon Walker, Alabama’s Evan Neal, and NC State’s Ikem Ekwonu are all in the mix—has potentially put Hutchinson back in play for the hometown Lions.
Before we get into what makes him a great fit with the Lions, let’s take a look at Hutchinson's path to the top of this draft class.
Aidan Hutchinson’s rise to the top of the 2022 NFL draft
In 2019, Hutchinson earned a starting defensive end position in Don Brown’s defensive system. He primarily lined up with his hand in the dirt at left defensive end (occasionally kicking inside to the 3-technique), where he learned how to anchor the edge on his way to the passer. After 69 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, and three forced fumbles, Hutchinson put himself firmly on NFL radars.
By 2020, he was named a captain but was only able to play in three games after breaking his ankle and needing surgery. Despite the injury, Hutchinson performed well enough over his 16 games starting that he was considered a mid-first round pick if he declared for the 2021 draft.
Instead of opting for the NFL, Hutchinson returned to Ann Arbor and vowed to beat Ohio State.
“To ensure that we have success this season,” Hutchinson said via the Detroit News’ Angelique Chengelis. “I’m willing to die for this, I swear. I want it more than anyone, I promise you that.”
This man loves football.
2021 brought changes to Michigan’s defense, as Mike McDonald (currently the Ravens’ defensive coordinator) left his job coaching linebackers under John Harbaugh in Baltimore, to join Jim Harbaugh as Michigan’s defensive coordinator. McDonald’s introduction of a Ravens-like defense did wonders to expand Hutchinson’s game.
The first major change for Hutchinson was that he would be asked to stand up and rush from the edge as well as drop into coverage. To make himself more adaptable, he dropped some extra weight to increase his flexibility and speed. McDonald also deployed Hutchinson on both sides of the line, developing him into a player capable of playing in multiple fronts and all over the field.
The next big change was expanding Hutchinson’s skills as a pass rusher. Previously, he had limited pass rush moves at his disposal, and it was a clear weakness in his overall game. But Hutchinson expanded his pass-rushing toolbox to not only include multiple moves, but the ability to string them together. The ability to win with hand fights combined with a relentless motor was a huge development.
As the year progressed, Hutchinson continued to elevate his game every week and he fully hit his stride down the stretch versus Penn State, Ohio State, and Iowa, catapulting Michigan to a Big 10 championship and the team's first-ever playoff berth.
In total, Hutchinson would record 62 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, 14 sacks (which was third most in FBS), two forced fumbles, and per PFF, had 74 pressures, good enough to earn PFF’s highest pass-rush grade (94.5) among all edge rushers.
In the Ohio State game alone, Hutchinson registered a startling 15 pressures and three sacks.
Aidan Hutchinson was a disruption machine against Ohio State— Connor Rogers (@ConnorJRogers) November 29, 2021
He's had a ton of *great* weeks all season, but this was the one that you build the draft night highlight package from pic.twitter.com/utaDMV8SYM
Hutchinson would go on to earn Big Ten Player of the Year honors, first-team All-American honors, first-team academic All-American honors, finished second in Heisman voting, and was also a finalist for the academic Heisman.
What Aidan Hutchinson would bring to the Lions
Hutchinson comes from a football family (his dad Chris played for Michigan and the Browns in the NFL), and he is dripping with knowledge of the game. He possesses a competitive edge that is difficult for others to match, and the mental fortitude to try and win every second of every rep.
As a two-time captain and academic All-American, his leadership and intelligence help separate him from the average first-round pick, as he looks to put his teammates on his shoulders and make those around him better. He is the type of player teams draft not just for what they do on the field, but in the weight room, film room, and community.
As an athlete, Hutchinson was the No. 2 freakiest player in college football last year, per The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman’s Freaks List and he backed those projected numbers up at the Combine this past March:
As a player, by returning for his senior year and getting the opportunity to work in McDonald’s pro-level scheme, Hutchinson rounded out his game and became a balanced, complete, instinctive athlete, who refuses to be outworked on or off the field.
“I think my greatest attributes are my instincts,” Hutchinson said at the Combine, via Detroit Lions’ Tim Twentyman. “I’m a very intuitive player. And that comes with watching a lot of film and I think it’s kind of just it was in me inherently and you know, being able to, to kind of have that on the field that it allows me to make a lot of plays.”
While Hutchinson doesn’t have the elite bend of edge rushers taken at the top of previous drafts, he is a technician, and his hands are married to his feet, moving in unison. He attacks the edge with violence and prefers to initiate contact first, which allows him to control the interaction. His motor never stops and he is constantly hand fighting, moving his feet, and working his angles when battling offensive linemen. When he is on his game, he can overwhelm even the best offensive tackles.
Hutchinson’s preferred pass-rushing move is to go speed to power, which sets up a variety of options. His swim move is quick and explosive, his rip is sudden, his punch is powerful, and he showed continual expansion throughout the season. By consistently attacking upfield, mixing up his pass-rush plan, and relying on both hands for moves, he keeps blockers off balance. This sets up his inside move, which can be lethal and often ends offensive drives.
“I just think I have a rare combination between speed and power that not many guys coming out of the draft produce,” Hutchinson told Pride of Detroit when he was a guest on our podcast in February. “A lot of people are one-trick ponies that can only do one thing. I believe I’ll be very versatile in the fact that I can use speed, I can use power, I can use a mixture of both.”
He understandably gets knocked for his arm length (32 1/8 inches, under the preferred 33-inch mark) but it rarely impacts his game. His drive, athleticism, and power keep him active in every play, and his technical savvy allows him to regularly disengage from blocks. As long as he stays low, his strength and leverage keep him clean, but if he gets too high it can result in a stalemate.
Hutchinson’s power also shows up against the run, where his early career role in Don Brown’s scheme developed him into an elite edge setter. His ability to anchor the edge, get off blocks, along with the instincts/vision to locate the ball carrier, make him a stout run defender. His technical precision comes into play against the run as well, as he rarely misses tackles due to his power and technique.
With a high floor and ever higher ceiling, Hutchinson is the best player in this draft cycle, and a perfect fit for what the Lions need as a leader/impact player. Bottom line: Lions’ general manager Brad Holmes better keep his tennis shoes under his desk and get some pre-draft stretching in, because if the Jaguars pass on Hutchinson, he will have some running to do.