The Detroit Lions have lacked a star pass rusher for years, but can Aidan Hutchinson fill that void?
Thanks to a dominant 2021 campaign where he recorded 16.5 sacks in 14 games at the University of Michigan, the Heisman runner-up vaulted himself atop many draft boards. Thankfully for the Lions, the Jacksonville Jaguars were not one such team, instead opting to take Georgia pass rusher Travon Walker. That left Hutchinson to fall to his hometown Lions. It’s a dream come true to Hutchinson, and the Lions are pretty happy with the result as well, having wasted no time submitting their pick.
Hutchinson should immediately step into a sizable role on defense. Due to an Achilles injury, the Lions were without Romeo Okwara for most of the 2021 season. Charles Harris stepped up in a big way, tallying eight sacks and earning himself a two-year, $13 million contract. Okwara and Harris will likely be important pieces on defense, but they each have questions entering the season. Will Okwara return to form? Can Harris duplicate his lone productive season as a pro?
Hutchinson was often compared to the brothers Joey and Nick Bosa, and there will no doubt be pressure to match their production. Both brothers won their respective Defensive Rookie of the Year title, with Joey recording 10.5 sacks and Nick totaling nine. From a profile perspective, Hutchinson compares more favorably to Maxx Crosby, but he too shined as a rookie to the tune of 10 sacks.
There will be pressure to match other top draft picks as well. Micah Parsons exploded onto the scene in 2021, earning himself a unanimous Defensive Rookie of the Year selection as well as a first team All-Pro spot. Chase Young excelled in his 2020 rookie campaign, although an ACL injury slowed him in 2021. Hutchinson is currently favored for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award, although being mere days removed from the draft means it is based more on speculation than merit.
Speculation is all we can do as training camp approaches. Are your expectations tempered for the rookie defensive end, or are they sky-high to match his potential?
Today’s Question of the Day is:
What are your expectations for Aidan Hutchinson’s rookie season?
My answer: My expectations are lower than most, mainly because I don’t want to overhype what is still a rebuilding year. I expect Hutchinson to be a 700+ snap player with over six sacks if he stays healthy.
These numbers aren’t lofty by any means, but I expect the Lions to be patient with him. The reason why I expect a slower rookie season for Hutchinson is the talent surrounding him. The Lions have not shied away from a pass rush rotation under defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, and that is unlikely to change in 2022.
Along with Okwara and Harris, the Lions also have Julian Okwara (5 sacks), Austin Bryant (5 sacks), and Jessie Lemonier (2 sacks) at defensive end. Coupled with defensive linemen Michael Brockers, Levi Onwuzurike, and Alim McNeill, and there will be no shortage of pass rushing potential. This doesn’t even include their 2022 draft picks, as the Lions added Josh Paschal and James Houston. While they are different types of pass rushers from Hutchinson—Paschal has inside versatility and Houston is a rush linebacker—they could nonetheless join the rotation along the front seven.
There’s no guarantee all of these players make the final 53-man roster, but it illustrates the depth along the defensive line. In 2021, Harris led the defensive ends with 871 snaps played. However, his increased play time came largely due to Romeo Okwara’s injury. Julian Okwara and Bryant combined for almost 800 snaps last season, while the oft-injured Trey Flowers managed 302 snaps.
There are a lot of snaps to account for, but I expect a fairly balanced rotation, at least to start the season. If one player catches fire, they they could see their role grow, much like Harris in 2021. Hutchinson could easily blossom into the Defensive Rookie of the Year and star we envision him to be, but I won’t set myself up for disappointment with lofty goals. This rebuild requires patience, and I believe we should do the same with Hutchinson.
How many sacks will Aidan Hutchinson have in his rookie season?
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