Allen Park — Sometimes, the pieces fall perfectly into place.
With the Jacksonville Jaguars opting to take Georgia defensive lineman Travon Walker with the first pick of the NFL Draft, the Detroit Lions were gifted the opportunity to add Michigan standout and Heisman Trophy runner-up Aidan Hutchinson with Thursday evening’s second selection.
“To the city, just know I’m gonna give it my all,” Hutchinson said. “It was such an honor to be on that stage and be picked by the Lions. It was the Lions all the way. The whole draft process I wanted them to pick me. And I’m so grateful that I went no. 2 to them.”
Even though the Lions repeatedly told us all options were on the table with that No. 2 pick, positional value always pointed to edge rusher making the most sense at the spot, given the lack of an elite quarterback prospect and the team not having a need at offensive tackle.
The addition of Hutchinson arguably addresses Detroit’s biggest deficiency; a lack of a consistent pass rush. The team has struggled to consistently affect opposing quarterbacks the past few years, ranking in the bottom-five in pressure rate each of the last three seasons.
Hutchinson joins a group that has some talented pieces but plenty of question marks. Romeo Okwara, who led the team in sacks two years ago, will be attempting to return to form after suffering a torn Achilles in October. Meanwhile, brother Julian has also battled early-career injuries, which has prevented him from fully capitalizing on his abilities through his first two seasons. While the arrow is pointing up with the younger Okwara, he finished with just five sacks and 21 pressures last season.
And Charles Harris, who led the team with 7.5 sacks and 52 pressure prior to re-signing with the Lions this offseason, must prove his breakout campaign wasn’t an aberration after the former first-round pick struggled to produce his first four professional seasons.
Hutchinson, a southeast Michigan native, played high school football at Dearborn Divine Child, located less than 6 miles from the Lions’ practice facility. From Divine Child, he committed to UM, following in father Chris’ footsteps.
A three-year starter for the Wolverines, Aidan missed most of the 2020 season with a broken ankle. He returned last season and quickly established himself as one of the top draft prospects, finishing the season with 14 sacks. He broke his school’s single-season record previously held by his father with three sacks in a 42-27 victory over Ohio State.
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At the scouting combine in March, Aidan Hutchinson further solidified his resume with an impressive display of athleticism. He posted elite measurables for his position in the 40-yard dash and vertical jump, while posting one of the best three-cone times of all-time for a defensive lineman, showcasing his agility.
In addition to his production, Hutchinson’s work ethic and leadership have been frequently praised by his teammates, coaches and outside observers. His unimpeachable football character is the cherry on top for a Lions focused on establishing a culture grounded in those principles.
“I’m a rookie, I’m young, I’m just going to go put my nose to the grindstone and really just get after it and not say a whole bunch,” Hutchinson said. “I’ll just earn the respect of others before I ever think to step up. I’m just going to go there and do my thing and do what I’ve always done.”
Detroit chose Hutchinson over other edge-rushing options, namely Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux and Florida State’s Jermaine Johnson. Other players perceived to be in the mix at No. 2 were defensive backs Sauce Gardner (Detroit King), Derek Stingley Jr. and Kyle Hamilton, as well as quarterback Malik Willis.
“To me, the unique thing about all these guys is they were all different in some capacity,” Glenn said about the edge-rushing group. “They all had an attribute you like. But the one thing we thought about Aidan, he’s relentless. He can obviously get to the quarterback. He can make plays in the run really well. And man, he’s a Detroit Lion through and through.”
Meet Aidan Hutchinson
Position: Defensive end
Height/weight: 6-foot-7/260 pounds
Notable stats: Racked up 62 tackles, including 16½ for loss and a single-season program record 14 sacks, to go along with 12 quarterback hurries, three pass breakups and two forced fumbles in 14 games his senior year.
Analysis: Hutchinson, the Heisman Trophy runner-up and first-team All-American, is a polished pass rusher and a one-man wrecking crew on the edge, which is exactly what Detroit needs. The Lions have ranked in the bottom five in pressure rate each of the past three seasons and Hutchinson was credited with 74 QB pressures in 2021 by Pro Football Focus, which was tied for the third-most in FBS. Simply put, the local product will help address a glaring weakness for the hometown team.