There may not be a single 2022 NFL draft prospect who has helped his draft stock this season as much as Michigan defensive end, Aidan Hutchinson. Here’s why his stock is rising.
One of the most surprising teams in this year’s unpredictable college football season is the Michigan Wolverines. Starting the season unranked, Michigan has clawed its way to just one loss in the 2021 season, and a top ten College Football Playoff ranking. The Wolverines have been carried by an elite defense that currently sits as a top ten unit in the country.
A large part of Michigan’s defensive success is the return of senior defensive end, Aidan Hutchinson. He was a budding star in his sophomore season in 2019, showing his elite, natural ability and pass-rushing potential. Unfortunately for Hutchinson, he fractured his leg early in the following season during a game against Indiana, which knocked him out for the season.
Mock drafts in the summer of 2021 had Hutchinson as a borderline first-round pick at best. Kyle Crabbs of The Draft Network had Hutchinson going 25th overall in his preseason 2022 mock draft, which he wrote back in August. Even Crabbs conceded that having him this high was a projection, “provided Hutchinson shows up and returns to form after a quiet 2020 that included a season-ending injury.”
Aidan Hutchinson’s 2021 Season
It turns out that Hutchinson did not just return to his 2019 form; he turned out to be one of the best defensive players in the country. Hutchinson has already racked up 9 sacks, 42 tackles, and 10.5 tackles for a loss thus far in the season, with multiple games left to be played. Additionally, as of November 10th, he has an outstanding 18.6% pressure rate, which is 3rd in the nation.
Hutchinson has always had an intriguing combination of size, strength, and athleticism, but he has further improved his functional athleticism this season and really maximized his natural abilities. Hutchinson is a 6’6, 270-pound defensive linemen, which is the ideal size for any NFL team that plays in an even front.
Furthermore, Michigan has also taken advantage of his versatility and played him all around the line to maximize matchups. With his ideal size, Hutchinson has always had a strong anchor and good grip strength, which gives him an excellent power rush and helps him set the edge as a run defender. Moreover, Hutchinson has improved his first step off the snap and his explosiveness, along with having excellent use of his hands to give him a wide variety of pass rush moves. In 2021, Aidan Hutchinson has demonstrated he can be a pass-rushing weapon both around the edge and while taking more acute angles towards the quarterback.
Hutchinson put all these skills on display in a recent game against Penn State on November 13th. His best game of the season happened to occur on a nationally broadcast game on ABC, where the whole nation could watch his dominant performance. In this game, Hutchinson overpowered a solid Penn State offensive line. Hutchinson accumulated 7 tackles, 3 sacks, and a forced fumble during the game, which earned him the honor of being the Reese’s Senior Bowl Defensive Player of the Week.
Aidan Hutchinson’s NFL Draft Prospects
Hutchinson’s 2021 play has led him to skyrocket up mock drafts for next year’s NFL draft. As mentioned earlier, he was barely in first-round consideration before the season. Now almost every recent mock draft has Hutchinson as a sure top-5 pick, including With The First Pick’s most recent mock draft by Andy Gallagher, who slots him as the number three overall pick to the Philadelphia Eagles.
At this point, Hutchinson will likely be the number-2 ranked edge in the class behind Oregon’s standout defensive end, Kayvon Thibodeaux. With the lack of sure-fire top quarterbacks in this years’ draft, QB-needy teams with a likely top pick, such as the Eagles or the Texans, will likely be looking in another direction.
Teams like the Texans, Eagles, Lions, Jets, or Giants could all use an additional player on the edge and be in the market for Aidan Hutchinson, depending on where they end up picking in next year’s NFL draft.