Michigan's star pass rusher Aidan Hutchinson has quickly solidified himself as the most talented player in all of college football. It didn't happen overnight. It required countless hours of dedication and commitment to arrive at this exciting juncture. It took an unfaltering amount of enthusiasm to become the impact defender Hutchinson has always known he was capable of becoming. Alas, he's arrived on the big stage, and he's better than ever.
Hutchinson has been incredibly dominant all throughout 2021. A hometown hero born in Plymouth, Michigan, Hutchinson has shouldered the load for an excellent Wolverines defense that's allowing opponents to score just 16 points per contest. Defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald will be counting on Hutchinson to shine in the crucial moments as they approach the College Football Playoffs. After all, he's done so all year long. A historic three-sack performance against the Buckeyes helped bring Hutchinson's 2021 sack total to an astounding 14, a single-season record for Michigan.
The 6-foot-6, 265-pound Hutchinson isn't surprised by his record-shattering campaign.
"Coming into the season, I didn’t think anybody was going to be able to block me," Hutchinson said in an exclusive conversation with The Draft Network. "In fact, I knew they couldn’t. My combination of speed rushes with my power helps me unlock my abilities as a pass rusher. My power opens up my speed and vice versa. If you turn on my tape, you’ll see a player that can beat tackles around the edge, I can beat them with a counter and I can also run them over. It’s really a dealer's choice for me on any given snap. It just depends on how the offensive tackle sets. That’s what makes me stand out as a pass rusher."
A dealer's choice indeed. An in-depth tape study of Hutchinson's abilities reveals a versatile pass rusher with the skill set necessary to terrorize opposing offensive linemen on a snap-by-snap basis. Hutchinson possesses a dynamic athletic profile that becomes especially dangerous when paired with his love and appreciation for the game which was first introduced to him by his father, Chris Hutchinson, who played for the Wolverines from 1989-1992.
Hutchinson's rare combination of length, speed, power, and fundamentals allow him to impact the game in a special manner. After all, making his presence felt is his favorite part of suiting up on game day.
"I love being able to wreck the game," Hutchinson continued. "That’s my favorite part of playing football. Especially when you look at our specific defense here at Michigan, what we do from a scheme perspective, the outside linebackers are really able to take over the game and wreak havoc in the opposing backfield. We do a great job making the quarterback uncomfortable. If a defense can make a quarterback uncomfortable, you’re most likely going to win that game. I love being a game-wrecker. It’s all about changing the game for me."
Macdonald has indeed had a profound impact on the way Hutchinson approaches his opponents. Prior to Macdonald's arrival in 2021, Hutchinson was primarily utilized in a three-point stance (with his hand in the dirt). That allowed Hutchinson to develop and generate more power as a pass rusher, an aspect of his pass-rushing abilities that remains active and scary today. But coach Macdonald arrived with the hopes of evolving Hutchinson's skill set into a more well-rounded one while unlocking some of his more athletic traits.
There were aspects of Hutchison’s game that were left somewhat untapped under the previous defensive staff. Placing Hutchison in situations to rush from a two-point stance on a more consistent basis could help him reveal the full merits of his athletic profile while allowing his football I.Q. to blossom.
Macdonald was undeniably onto something. The results have spoken for themselves, and Hutchison learned something about himself along the way that should be particularly of note going forward.
“I’ve absolutely loved being able to play in a two-point stance this year. It allows me to play with a terrific amount of vision before the play even unfolds. It’s helped me with my get-off. I’m able to load my front foot and explode out of my stance. I’ve really grown to love being in a two-point stance. I know it will ultimately depend on where I end up in the draft and whatnot. I’m comfortable either way, both in a three-point and two-point, but I’ve really grown to love that two-point stance this year.”
The wherewithal to excel in either stance takes us back to Hutchinson's overwhelming amount of versatility. Macdonald switched things up defensively upon his arrival in 2021, and Hutchinson embraced the opportunity to expand his wings in a different, newfound manner.
Hutchinson initially developed under the tutelage of legendary defensive coordinator Don Brown, whose 4-3 base defense grew stale and predictable at times in what turned out to be a disappointing 2020 campaign defensively. Macdonald's defense is more multiple and features several fronts, schematic changes, and coverage looks designed to disrupt the flow of the opposing offense. Exposing Hutchinson to different coaches, schemes, and mindsets has helped him become an extremely coachable player that's open-minded. He's worn multiple hats for Michigan's defense over the years and is ready for whatever comes next.
He's not picky, although he may have one tiny request for his future professional team.
“Whatever defense you put me in, I just hope to always play on the edge. That’s all I have to say to that really. Let me play on the edge and let me rush the passer. If an NFL team puts me on the edge at the next level, I think I’ll have a lot of success there.”
It's a request that should be accommodated.
Pass rushing is an art in its purest form. NFL executives in charge of rebuilding a franchise often place importance on three crucial aspects of the game: The quarterback, protecting the quarterback, and hitting the opposing quarterback. At his best, Hutchinson is an unblockable pass rusher that does the latter in bunches.
Athletic skill sets are all the rage when analyzing tomorrow's quarterback hunters, but mental preparation paired with tape study can help a young pass rusher grow in ways physical reps can't. Analyzing the tendencies and toolboxes of future peers you hope to one day be mentioned alongside is an excellent way to take steps forward toward unwavering greatness. It's an underrated habit Hutchison takes great pride in partaking in. It's partially why Hutchinson spends hours dissecting the most impressive pass rushers today's league has to offer.
“I watch a lot of NFL film. I’ve been doing that since I first arrived at Michigan. I love watching T.J. Watt. I watched a bunch of J.J. Watt back in his prime. The Bosa brothers are always fun to watch from a technical standpoint. They’re so good with their hands. I’ve watched a ton of tape on those guys and I’ve taken little snippets from every single one of them. I see myself doing a lot of those things. I wouldn’t say I model my game after anyone in particular, but I do take little bits and pieces from those I admire when I identify things that I think will fit well into my toolbox.”
Hutchison is firmly focused on helping Michigan capture a National Championship in a few weeks’ time. His willingness to master his craft, change, evolve, and grow while learning from the greatest collegiate coaches and pass rushers could help Michigan get there.