Allen Park — A Week 13 matchup between the Detroit Lions and Jacksonville Jaguars at Ford Field is a battle of No. 1 vs. No. 2 — draft picks, that is.
Of course, the top selections in last offseason’s NFL Draft, Jaguars defensive end Travon Walker and Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, won’t see the field at the same time. But thanks to the way they’ll inextricably linked for the rest of their careers, it’s definitely a matchup to keep an eye on as they prepare to play against each other for the first time.
“We really liked Travon,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. “Liked him a lot. We were really high on him and I think he’s what we thought he would be. He’s very versatile, he plays their outside linebacker in base, and then plays their rush end. He can play both sides.”
For both teams, it’s a chance to see what could have been. There wasn’t a consensus No. 1 pick in 2022 the way there is in other years, but with the way Hutchinson closed the season, he was trending toward being that guy.
“One, great person,” Jaguars coach Doug Pederson said about Hutchinson. “I got a chance to meet him in person. Just a great human being and he’s a good football player. It’s going to be exciting watching him all week this week, but watching him in person and understanding he’s got a bright future.”
“(The Lions are) moving him around a little bit, playing the edge position and also inside, 5.5 sacks and getting pressures, just doing the things that we thought he could do. He’s going to be a really good player in this league for a long time.”
The Jaguars have done similar things with Walker. He started primarily on the right side, but has since primarily been used as a left outside linebacker. 51.7% of his snaps have come at LOLB and 39.1% have come at ROLB.
So far, Hutchinson is having the more productive rookie season, which, given the narrative surrounding Walker’s selection — that Walker had a higher ceiling and his production at Georgia was stifled by a scheme that didn’t benefit him, specifically — the Jaguars might not be too concerned about.
Walker has 37 total tackles, 2.5 sacks and an interception. Hutchinson is first among rookies in sacks (5.5) and total pressures (33), second in QB hurries (23) and tied for third in QB hits (four) and interceptions (two). Hutchinson is also the third leg of a three-horse race for the NFL’s defensive rookie of the year award with New York Jets corner Sauce Gardner and Seattle Seahawks corner Tariq Woolen — a race that Wash said he doesn’t know much about.
“For me, I think it’s about the team, and probably the best thing about Hutch, like we said, he’s a good football player, but he’s a really good human being,” Wash said. “I think he’s more worried about us winning games and doing what he can to help us win games. I think if he ends up winning rookie of the year, it’s just some icing on the cake for him.
“But that’s the last thing on his mind. He just wants to win football games and be a positive role for our team, and if it happens, it happens. And that’s the best thing about Hutch.”
Pederson went on to describe Hutchinson as a “professional — the way he acted, the way he spoke, the way he handled his business when he was here. You just know guys like that are going to have success in this league.”
With the second pick, the Lions knew they would at least have the chance to select one of the two. We’ll never know if the Lions would have selected Walker if the Jaguars took Hutchinson, but it sure does sound like they were big fans ahead of the draft.
“Obviously, we liked him. I liked him. He was a big, physical, powerful player and we liked him going into the draft,” Lions defensive line coach Todd Wash said. “But I will say this: I love the one we got. What’s his name again?”
Ah, yes — that ‘Hutchinson’ fellow. He and Walker won’t have to directly account for each other on Sunday, but as Campbell, Wash and Pederson all alluded to, each coaching staff will have their hands full trying to stop the guy they didn’t draft.
“He’s got length. He’s got speed. He’s got power,” Campbell said of Walker. “Every week, he gets a little bit better. So, I think they’ve got a good pick up over there and I think we got a good pick up.”