With the second overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, the Detroit Lions managed to snag the consensus number one overall prospect, Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson. I actually had the pleasure of going to the USA for the first time in a decade for thanksgiving and watched Hutchinson ball out in the Big House against Ohio State. He got 15 pressures and 7 tackles that day, including 3 sacks for his equal-best statistical performance of the season (the other against Penn State) and it was mightly impressive on a very cold day in Ann Arbor.
Maize & Blue Nation, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Hutchinson got 62 tackles (36 solo) including 16.5 tackles for loss and 14 sacks, but also 3 pass defended, 2 forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery per sports-reference.com. He was PFF's no.1 EDGE defender in the nation in 2021 achieving a 94.5 overall grade and played everyone on the defensive line in his college career, from over the center to the 9 technique, as well as a few off-ball snaps too.
Let's have a look at Aidan's historic combine performance:
image source: ras.football
While he is a little light, and does have small arms (12.9%ile), his 3-cone performance is second all-time for Defensive Ends to Shaquille Riddick from West Virginia in 2015 per nflcombineresults.com.
Engine: Firstly, and it's not just a trope, his engine is supremely impressive. Whether he's having his best day or his worst, he's fighting on every rep and giving his opposite number something to account for and think about. Even on his worst reps he is occupying the O-lineman.
Run defense whilst pass rushing: Often in likely running downs, D-lineman will use a 2-gapping style to block up the gaps at the line by holding their block on the O-lineman and keeping eyes on the RB. Aidan manages to bullrush his man, pushing him several steps into the backfield whilst keeping eyes on the QB/RB and managing to get off this block and still make the tackle even when the RB tries to run through the vacated space more often than not. This ends up doing several things:
1) He's more likely to get TFLs on running plays because he's contacting his guy behind the line. 2) Against RPOs, play action and option plays he's creating additional pressure by getting in the backfield
3) He's more likely to get sacks
4) It opens up the possibility that teams can run behind his penetration in the NFL, which he'll need to ensure doesn't happen.
Timing off the snap: On film, even with the perhaps "more athletic" David Ojabo opposite him, Aidan is consistently the first man off the line, often well into his pass rush technique before the OT has even left his stance. It's often said of Hutch that he "isn't the most explosive player" which is potentially true, but this ability to get off the line quickly goes a long way to make up for this. He tries to time the snap which I think will create sacks, but don't be surprised if he gets caught offside a few times this season.
Hand usage: He's violent with his hands in his pass rush technique. What he lacks in the highest of high-end athleticism he makes up for by being perhaps the best technician in the entire draft when it comes to hand usage. There are multiple examples on tape of almost all the techniques in a pass rusher's arsenal, whether that's the swim move, the rip, or the pull-club, there's nothing that Hutch doesn't already possess. This should immediately translate to first-year success in the NFL.
Pad level: I realise that after Quintricia that phrase is especially triggering for Lions fans, but Aidan suffers from playing very upright and high which may cause him issues at the next level.
Level of play against quality NFL calibre opposition: We know that Hutch took over again against Ohio State and their excellent offensive line in Nicholas Petit-Frere and Thayer Munford which proves that he is capable of beating reasonable NFL talent. However, watching him against Penn State in 2021 he was stymied for almost the entire game against now Green Bay Packer Rasheed Walker and the returning 4-star right tackle Caedan Wallace.
Aidan Hutchinson is a very polished player. He has an array of pass rush moves, is even better against the run, has a relentless motor and constantly gives O-lineman issues even on his worst day. The biggest concern is how he reacts to playing against NFL calibre tackles on a consistent basis.
Here's my predicted stat line for Aidan's season, barring injury:
50 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 60 pressures.
I'm bullish on how this will all translate. The Lions transitioning to more of a 4-3 front I think will suit this team very well with the run-stuffing monster Alim McNeill and Michael Brockers or a jacked Levi Onwuzurike inside of him, with Charles Harris/Romeo Okwara/Josh Paschal opposite him. That calibre of D-line will allow Hutchinson to go to work.
What do you think of Hutch? How's he doing to do year 1?
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