Indianapolis — There’s no arguing Aidan Hutchinson’s production. The former defensive Michigan defensive lineman dominated the competition as a senior last season, racking up 14.5 sacks with a staggering 79 quarterback pressures, including 15 in an epic performance against Ohio State.
And Hutchinson’s athleticism, which he’ll put on display at the combine Saturday afternoon, has been well-documented by his alma mater.
But as NFL team’s nitpick prospective additions to their rosters in the weeks leading up to the draft, they will look at whether Hutchinson has a concerning deficiency after his arms measured 32 1/8 inches at the combine.
Obviously, that arm length proved to be a non-issue at Michigan, but in the NFL, where the quality of offensive linemen is pared down to the best of the best, it merits additional consideration. The top three offensive tackle prospects in this draft — Evan Neal, Charles Cross and Ikem Ekwonu — each had 34-inch arms. With proven value on leverage in those trench battles, football’s moniker “game of inches” turns out to be applicable here, as well.
A popular mindset coached into players is “control what you can control.” Arm length clearly falls outside the realm of something Hutchinson can control, so, predictably, he’s not wasting energy thinking about it.
“There might be questions about that,” Hutchinson said. “I guess we’ll see, but I’m not too worried about it. I’m very confident in my ability despite how long I am or whatever you say. So it doesn’t really matter to me.”
But it’s foolish to say the measurement won’t give NFL teams something to think about as they process Hutchinson’s NFL potential.
“There will be some clubs that aren’t happy with that arm length,” former Chicago Bears scouting director Greg Gabriel tweeted. “We did a study when I was (with the) Bears and the common denominator with top pass rushers isn’t speed but rather arm length.”
Among the teams expected to strongly consider Hutchinson in the draft are the Detroit Lions, with the No. 2 overall pick. General manager Brad Holmes was asked earlier in the week if there are any disqualifying, position-specific metrics with prospects.
“You definitely want to get confirmation on what those measurables are for what you thought you saw on film,” Holmes said. “Some measurables, you already have. There’s a lot of studies that’s done, in terms of which position, whether it’s offensive tackle with arm length, what are the subsets of offensive tackles with this size arm length and what has been the success rate of those guys? Then it goes to the receivers and 40 times, does that really compare? That’s when you really deep dive the analytics. We have a great analytics department that we utilize heavily. There’s certain trends that you can see start to develop when you deep dive the measurables.”
But Holmes also knows, as well as anyone, exceptions to these studies exist. After all, he played an integral part of the process when the Rams spent a first-round pick on one of the most productive exceptions in NFL history, defensive lineman Aaron Donald.
Donald, like Hutchinson, was highly productive and highly athletic coming out of college, but the former Pitt standout fell well below most of the prototypical size thresholds for an interior defensive lineman.
In hindsight, considering Donald a risk seems foolish. The selection has spectacularly paid off with an eight-time Pro Bowler and three-time defensive player of the year who is a sure-fire Hall of Famer.
Now Holmes must ask himself if Hutchinson’s arm length, similar to Donald’s height, weight and length, is just background noise for an otherwise expectational prospect who can similarly deliver high-end production for years to come.
“Hopefully, he comes out here and competes,” Holmes said about Hutchinson. “From what I know of him, he seems like that type of guy. He’s a local guy, he’s from Detroit, plays hard, had a very productive year. We’ll get whatever questions answered out of him throughout this week and going forward.”