The Michigan Wolverines emerged as a force in the Big 10 as the 2021 season wore on. They overcame Penn State, Ohio State, and Iowa on their way to winning the Big 10 Championship and earning a ticket to the College Football Playoffs.
Michigan was carried by its defense, who in turn took their lead from EDGE Aidan Hutchinson.
Hutchinson rebounded from a lost 2020 season with a fantastic break-out season in 2021. He notched an impressive 16.5 tackles for a loss, 14.0 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 3 passes defensed. That was enough to propel Hutchinson to the top (or almost top) of every draft board out there.
Hutchinson’s draft stock seems to have cooled off a bit in the national media. Concerns over his arm length and 4.74-second 40 yard dash (he still had a great 1.61-second 10-yard split) have lead to other prospects being mentioned above him.
NFL teams have talked themselves out of talented players before. Could the late-breaking concerns over Hutchinson depress his draft stock enough to give the New York Giants a chance at drafting him?
That seems highly unlikely, but stranger things have happened and the Giants need to be prepared.
Prospect: Aidan Hutchinson (97)
Games Watched: vs. Washington (2021), vs. Michigan State (2021), vs. Penn State (2021), vs. Ohio State (2021)
Red Flags: fractured ankle (2020)
Games Played: 36
Tackles For a loss: 27.5
Forced Fumbles: 5
Passes Defensed: 10
Games Played: 14
Tackles For a loss: 16.5
Forced Fumbles: 2
Passes Defensed: 3
Best: Competitive toughness, explosiveness, athleticism, size, versatility, pass rush, run defense, size
Worst: Pass coverage, bend, arm length
Projection: A starting EDGE with positional versatility and Pro Bowl upside
Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson has a great combination of size, athleticism, technique, and competitive toughness to play the position at the NFL level.
Hutchinson has a prototypical frame at 6-foot 6 ⅝ inches, which he combines with great play strength and athleticism. That combination allows Hutchinson to play from a variety of stances and alignments. He is able to effectively rush as both a down defensive lineman and as a stand-up rusher or outside linebacker. Likewise, he is able to win with power, technique, and speed, or any combination thereof.
Hutchinson plays with a controlled aggression, balancing discipline and fidelity to his assignments with a desire to be disruptive and attack into the backfield. He flashes a truly explosive first step in obvious passing situations, firing out of his stance with great leverage and gaining good depth with his second and third steps. Hutchinson is a polished technician who knows how to make good use of his hands. He almost always places them well, landing heavy strikes on blockers’ chest plates as a bull rusher. He also has a good variety of pass rush moves and is judicious in using them.
Hutchinson can win with swipe, club, swim, rip, long-arm, bull-rush, push-pull, and forklift moves. He makes good use of those moves as both primary and counter-moves, and is careful to avoid becoming predictable. He also has a good sense of when to simply hold blockers and allow his teammates to make the play. At times he commands double (or triple) teams, giving other rushers free runs at the quarterback.
Hutchinson is a disruptive player behind the scrimmage. He is a hard hitter, a sound tackler, and simply never gives up on his rush. Hutchinson is willing to fight through waves of blockers and pursue with second or third efforts if the quarterback still has the ball.
Hutchinson’s technique, awareness, and play strength make him a predictably capable run defender. He does a good job of quickly and accurately diagnosing running plays and keeps good leverage throughout the play. He does a good job of getting under blockers pads despite his height and his hand usage allows him to shed blockers and pursue ball carriers. He has good gap discipline and is tireless in pursuit.
While Hutchinson has prototypical size, he lacks ideal arm length. His burst, play strength, and technique make up for his 32-inch arms at the collegiate level. However, he could run into problems against long-levered, athletic, and skilled blockers at the NFL level. He played against a high level of competition at the college level and was very successful, so teams will have to decide for themselves if Hutchinson’s arm length is a concern.
Hutchinson has good agility and bend for a player of his size, but he does lack elite flexibility in his lower half. He can struggle to turn particularly tight corners and flatten around the edge when he isn’t able to set himself up with good technique.
Overall Grade: 9.2
Michigan EDGE Aidan Hutchinson projects as a starting EDGE at the NFL level with scheme versatility and Pro Bowl upside.
Hutchinson has a versatile blend of height, weight, strength, and athleticism to play both a 4-3 defensive end or a 3-4 outside linebacker. It’s notable that he truly blossomed in 2021 after Michigan transitioned to a Baltimore-style front using two down linemen and two stand-up pass rushers in their base defense. That alignment allowed Hutchinson to make full use of his versatility and attack offenses from across the defensive formation.
Hutchinson is more than just a big and great athlete, he is also a technician. He has a polished arsenal of pass rush moves, has a good idea of when to use them, and comes to every play with a plan. But it’s Hutchinson’s competitive toughness that stands out the most, and is his greatest asset. He plays as hard on the final snap of the game as he does on the first, and never gives up on the play. Hutchinson made multiple plays in 2021 in which he was knocked to the ground, got up, and kept pursuing through the whistle.
While Hutchinson is capable of dropping into coverage, it isn’t something teams should ask him to do regularly. He doesn’t appear particularly comfortable and he is simply more useful attacking downhill into the backfield. That said, he’s good enough at dropping into coverage that he can be used to disguise zone blitzes on occasion.
The only real knock on Hutchinson is his lack of arm length. Long arms are an undeniable advantage for a pass rusher, and Hutchinson will have to compensate at the NFL level. It’s possible that NFL teams that focus heavily on measurable thresholds could get stuck on his lack of arm length. However, his tape is too good for an inch or two of arm length to be much of a concern.