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Aidan Hutchinson Jaguars
NFL

Should Jaguars Regret Not Taking Aidan Hutchinson No. 1?

  • Justin Melo
  • December 2, 2022
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The Jacksonville Jaguars made a borderline surprising decision when they drafted Georgia’s Travon Walker over Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson with the No. 1 overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft. As a result, Walker and Hutchinson will be closely analyzed for the rest of their careers. We’ll receive our first opportunity to dissect the Walker and Hutchinson debate in a head-to-head matchup when the Jaguars square off with the Detroit Lions this Sunday.

Jacksonville’s decision is already being placed under a microscope. Hutchinson has been more productive than Walker, but it remains too early to claim the Jaguars made a drafting error with any sort of conviction. That doesn’t mean Hutchinson is willing to forgive Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke. Hutchinson hasn’t forgotten the perceived oversight.

“I guess my arms were just not quite long enough,” Aidan Hutchinson said recently while commenting on Jacksonville’s decision to pass on his services. “I mean, we’ll see if that inch or couple inches was the difference.”

Hutchinson is of course referring to his arm length (32.125 inches). Baalke has traditionally been drawn to longer-armed defensive linemen. Walker’s arms (35.5 inches) are significantly longer than Hutchinson’s. It likely played a deciding factor.

The production hasn’t been particularly close so far. Hutchinson has recorded 5.5 sacks this season. Walker has 2.5 quarterback takedowns by comparison and is sack-less in three consecutive showings. Hutchinson has nine more quarterback pressures (33) than Walker (24) does. Hutchinson has been credited with 23 quarterback hurries versus just 18 for Walker, and four additional quarterback hits versus three for Walker.

Hutchinson has been afforded 382 pass-rushing snaps as opposed to Walker’s 328, via Pro Football Focus. PFF has awarded Hutchinson with an overall defensive grade of 69.8. Hutchinson leads all rookie EDGE defenders in that department. The pass-rush win rate is a bit closer, with Hutchinson boosting an 11.1% win rate, and Walker with a 9.2% mark, per Next Gen Stats. But There’s no debating who the more productive pass rusher has been ahead of Sunday’s head-to-head meeting. The early signs favor Hutchinson.

But Hutchinson was always viewed as a pro-readier prospect coming out of Michigan. Unlike Walker, Hutchinson realized his full potential at the collegiate level. He thrived in Michigan’s system. Hutchinson proved to be a scheme-versatile defender while remaining equally as productive out of two and three-point releases at the snap. Meanwhile, Walker’s ball-tracking abilities and block shedding remained a work in progress. Walker’s rare athleticism and untapped upside ultimately captured Jacksonville’s heart. 

Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh moved Hutchinson all over his defensive formation. Hutchinson played multiple positions as Michigan constantly searched for mismatch opportunities. It helped make Hutchison a “plug-and-play” prospect. Walker’s evaluation wasn’t nearly as straightforward.

Baalke chose Walker’s potential as opposed to Hutchinson’s relatively safe floor as a prospect. Potential is a dangerous word in relation to NFL draft prospects, but it’s one that requires patience. If the numbers and form between the two highly-touted talents keep trending in their current direction, it will eventually be declared that Baalke overthought the process. It’s simply too early to make such a determination given Walker’s path.

Baalke opted for the bolder, riskier decision when he drafted Walker. Baalke fully understood he was passing on a cleaner prospect in Aidan Hutchinson. The risk was always present. The Jaguars possess no choice but to continue aiding Walker in his ascension while hoping his skill set develops in the anticipated, hopeful manner. Onlookers will continue comparing them closely.

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Justin Melo